Death led to big overhaul of child-protection system
Legislature to focus on ability to handle displaced children
SAN ANGELO, Texas Little Diamond Alexander-White was beaten to death with a vacuum hose by her mother eight weeks after Texas child-protection officials allowed them to reunite.
The 2-year-old's death in 2004 was one of more than 500 recorded in Texas in less than three years due to child abuse or neglect deaths that underscored the need for a massive overhaul of the state's child welfare system.
An audit found that in nearly 70 percent of the cases handled by the Department of Family and Protective Services, case agents failed to take the appropriate action.
The result was major reform bills passed by the Texas Legislature, which among other things provided an infusion of millions of dollars to beef up resources and implement new requirements, including stepped-up investigative response times.
Patrick Crimmins, spokesman with the agency, said a flurry of reforms were passed in the 2005 session of the Legislature and again in 2007 to address the problems.
"There were a series of high-profile cases in San Antonio and Dallas and (Child Protective Services) was criticized for not acting appropriately. ... In CPS circles, a CPS agency is generally criticized for acting too fast for children who are not in danger of any abuse or neglect or acting too slowly in cases where children are seriously injured or killed."
SB6, crafted by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, added 2,500 more caseworkers, aimed to reduce caseloads by 40 percent and allocated a little more than $300 million to the agency, which is also tasked with investigating cases of elder abuse.
Two years later (the Legislature meets for five months every other year in odd-numbered years), Nelson again pushed successfully for the passage of legislation that added another $180 million to the department's coffers.
SB758, in part, increased reimbursement rates for foster families after the "system" lost track of two children who died after being placed in "safe" homes, said Dave Nelson, the senator's communications director.
"They were tragedies that focused heavily on the foster care system," the spokesman said. "It increased the tracking of children and stepped up oversight of foster homes."
He said that even before the recent raid in Eldorado that resulted in the seizure of 416 children from the polygamous YFZ Ranch, the issues heading into the next session are centered on having enough "capacity" to handle children who are moved into the system.
"There are 9,500 homes available for over 17,000 children who are displaced by abuse, neglect or abandonment."
The senator, referencing the Eldorado raid, said the issue of having enough safe and appropriate foster care placements will be addressed in an April 30 legislative interim meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, of which she is chairwoman.
The meeting, she said in her statement, "will examine the actions taken this month at Eldorado and the lessons being learned as DFPS continues the single largest child welfare investigation ever undertaken in our state. We will evaluate the impact it is having on an already strapped foster system. We will also discuss the state's efforts to recruit and certify Texans stepping up to become foster and adoptive parents."
Greg Cunningham, a spokesman with DFPS, said the agency, however, is confident it will be able to place any FLDS children ordered to remain in custody into safe and appropriate foster homes.
"We are in a relatively good position as far as that goes," Cunningham said, pointing out that while 17,000 children to 9,500 homes sounds like a shortfall, often multiple children go to one home."We feel confident should the judge rule in our favor that we will find a safe and appropriate place for them," he said.
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