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CPS Deaths Up

Feb. 26, 2010

Two-hundred and eighty children died from abuse or neglect in the fiscal year that ended in 2009. That's according to an annual report from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. 67 more children died that year than in 2008. It's the highest number on record.

Crimmins: "We're obviously very concerned about the increase."

Patrick Crimmins is a spokesperson for the Department of Family and Protective Services. He says so far - they have not been able to pinpoint a cause.

Crimmins: "We looked at as many factors as we could think of to look at. For example, child population only went up from 08 to 09 by about a percent, and that wouldn't explain a 30 percent increase. The numbers of investigations remained about the same. The number of reports to our abuse-neglect hotline remained about the same. You know, we're trying to analyze the data and figure it out."

But some observers believe they can point to a cause behind the surge in child neglect and abuse related deaths. Among them is Scott McCowen. He's executive director of a progressive think tank called the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

McCowen: "The cause is high child poverty and particularly a high teen birth rate. When you have children born to young mothers, many of whom are living in poverty, you're going to see more child deaths from abuse and neglect."

The largest increase in child abuse-neglect fatalities last year was in Harris County. That county also has the highest number of Texans living in poverty. But social conditions aren't the only factor at play, according to Eileen Garcia with the advocacy group Texans Care for Children. She says child protection agents are overworked.

Garcia: "This an extremely demanding profession and position, and with our caseload so much higher and certainly so much higher than what is recommended best practice, it's just not surprising that we keep getting these outcomes."

The Department of Family Protective Services says the situation has improved over the past five years as it sought to overhaul the system and hire more case workers. But despite a decrease in caseload, the turnover rate among caseworkers has increased. Today, it stands at almost 24 percent.

In Austin, I'm Nathan Bernier

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