Governor Greg Abbott announced today, Tuesday, April 10, 2016 he is overhauling the state’s Child Protective Services in the wake of a crisis which included the tragic death of a child in Dallas, according to the Dallas Morning News today, April 10. newspaper. An exodus of caseworkers from the agency along with other factors have reportedly led to a dangerous situation for many children in the Lone Star State.
The tragic death of four-year old Leiliana Wright of Grand Prairie, Texas, on March 13, 2016 prompted firings, resignations and accusation at the Dallas CPS Office. The child was reportedly beaten to death, although her grandparents had sent photographs of their grandchild to CPS more than a year before her death.
Abbott said he was appointing retired Texas Rangers chief Henry Hank Whitman as commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, the parent agency of Child Protective Services in the wake of the tragic incident. Kristine Blackstone is appointed to run CPS as assistant commissioner in the hopes there will never again be a tragedy similar to what happened to Leiliana.
Abbott said, “The status quo at CPS is unacceptable. Our children are too important to suffer through the challenges they’ve faced. I’ve insisted an on overhauling a broken system, and I applaud the leadership changes that will provide a new direction and focus that puts protecting children first.” Abbott and Charles Smith, the top deputy at the Health and Human Services have been working for days to respond to the mass exodus of child abuse investigators from CPS’ Dallas County operation, the death of Leiliana, who was known to be at risk and setbacks for the state in a sweeping, federal foster care lawsuit.
Abbott’s social services czar Chris Traylor, said, “I can’t think of anyone better than a Texas Ranger to protect our most vulnerable Texans. Chief Whitman is no sranger to critical assignments that keep us safe and I know he will bring the same diligence to the protective services department that has always driven the Rangers.”
Whitman and Blackstone will start their newe jobs May 1. Whitman, who spent 22 years with the Department of Public Safety, lives in Floresville and has been helping run a private investigations firm since he retired from the Rangers in 2012. Blackstone spent 17 years with CPS before transferring to child support.
The tragic beating death has galvanized a major response to problems with the system. “”The caseworker assigned to Leiliana’s case had 70 cases, and obviously that’s just absolutely unsustainable,” said Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat, whose district includes Grand Prairie.”
Representative Jeff Leach, Republican of Plano, said that the Legislature added $38 million to the protective services department’s budget last year. Leach told the Dallas Morning News Monday that he wants a “systemic review” of CPS and believes Abbott’s aides are conducting one.
The problems in CPS are complex as the agency has been forced to resuming having children sleep in CPS offices because of the overwhelming numbers of children in the foster care program. The overcrowding of that program has carried over to CPS and made the job of employees there even more difficult.
Angry Internet traffic has been lambasting Leiliana’s mother and the mother’s boyfriend, who have been charged in her death. Commenters are demanding they be tried for capital murder Leiliana never really had a chance in life. Her mother gave birth while in prison. Following her release she moved in with a man now facing child sex abuse charges, taking the little girl with her. Leiliana was allegedly beaten with a belt and stick, wrists bound, tied in a standing position and locked in a closet, punched, force-fed, slapped and slammed into a wall.
The governor appears to be doing everything he can to rectify the problems in the foster care and CPS programs in Texas. The private sector can also help. A foundation called Phase In has been working at taking care of children who are no longer eligible for foster care.