The governor also called on the agency to boost enforcement of existing safety policies and increase education of foster parents. He requested a progress report by April 15.
“Abuse or neglect of our most vulnerable Texans – our children – is intolerable, and it is especially unacceptable when it happens to a child under the care umbrella of the State of Texas,” Abbott wrote in a letter to John Specia, the commissioner of the state Department of Family and Protective Services, which runs Child Protective Services.
Abbott expressed dismay about the deaths of 12 children since January 2014, including three so far this year, but his policy orders focused in particular on Parental Child Safety Placement, the state’s program for temporarily moving kids during an investigation.
The Houston Chronicle reported earlier this month a northeast Harris County 4-year-old boy who fatally shot himself accidentally was in such a placement, and that because there is a lower level of screening in those situations, Child Protective Services had not been required to ask if there was a gun in the home.
Two other accidental child shootings took place in Harris County within two days of that tragedy, including one involving a home that was being investigated by Child Protective Services. The 6-year-old boy shot in that incident survived.
Abbott did not focus on guns in his letter but called for a “screening tool to thoroughly assess the appropriateness and ability of each potential” caregiver, in addition to new policies to address recidivism related to safety of children in the Parental Child Safety Placement program and to prohibit closing investigations into such placements without follow-up services in place.
The governor also said Child Protective Services should ensure findings of child fatality reviews are used in a “truly meaningful way”; better enforce policies regarding face-to-face visits with children and caregivers in temporary placements and in foster care; provide caregivers and foster parents more information about child safety; and tell foster children more about how to anonymously report abuse and neglect.
In his two-year budget plan, Abbott proposed a $40 million funding increase to boost outcome-based prevention, child safety placement oversight, and community-based family safety services.
His letter came a week after the Department of Family and Protective Services and Department of State Health Services released a joint report showing that 14.5 percent of child deaths in Texas over the past three years were due to abuse or neglect. In about half of cases, the home was at least on the radar of Child Protective Services.
The study described child abuse and neglect as a “public health issue” that must be addressed with solutions specific to individual communities.
On Wednesday, Specia thanked the governor in a statement.
“We appreciate the support of Gov. Abbott on this very important issue, and look forward to working with him and with legislators to strengthen protections and ensure safety for children in families who are involved with Child Protective Services,” Specia said.