PRESS RELEASE from the office of Senator Carlos Uresti

Date: May 8, 2007
CONTACT:Ryan Sullivan

Uresti, Nelson & Patrick point to abysmal DFPS child safety review numbers
Senators concerned about extremely high percentage of cases going without review

AUSTIN, TX -- State Senator Carlos Uresti was joined by Health and Human Services committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson and committee member Senator Dan Patrick in raising alarm over the Department of Family and Protective Services' (DFPS) failure to provide secondary reviews of high-risk child abuse investigations before closure.

"The data I received, one month after making a request from the department -- and a day after the confirmation of Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins -- show that DFPS is failing to provide a secondary review of these high priority investigations more than 75 percent of the time statewide. These investigations involve children age three and under, some of the most vulnerable children involved in reports of abuse and neglect. These failure rates are so high that they warrant our immediate attention. Once again, the department should have moved aggressively to bring these problems to our attention on its own volition, rather than waiting for the data to be requested by a legislator," Uresti said.

"More than 19,300 child abuse investigations did not receive a secondary approval as required by the department's own policies. In my own district, containing Region 8, more than 80 percent of these high-risk investigations went without secondary review," Uresti said.

"Nearly two years after I passed Senate Bill 6, DFPS' own data show that the department is failing to meet its stated policy on secondary approval before closing investigations. However, the data do not tell us how many of these investigations might have been improperly conducted. We also have no way of knowing whether these failures to follow agency policy have led to the deaths or serious injuries of children. I am extremely disturbed by these numbers," Nelson commented today.

The review process is an important quality assurance policy designed to make certain that a caseworker does not improperly or prematurely close a high priority child abuse investigation without the secondary review of a Child Safety Specialist. The policy was mandated by DFPS reforms passed during the 2005 regular legislative session, and inspired by the improper closure of investigations and subsequent deaths of several Texas children, including those of San Antonio's Jovonie Ochoa and Diamond Alexander.

Uresti shared the abysmal performance data with Senate colleagues and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst on Friday. He called for immediate scrutiny of the agency's performance on secondary approvals, as well as an explanation of why it did not bring the glaring failure rates to the legislature's attention during testimony on the review process in a March committee hearing.

"Senator Patrick and I have asked Chairwoman Nelson to call the agency to account for this serious failure to meet its own policy goals. We also have asked Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to join us in that request. Both are dedicated advocates of child safety, and we know they will heed this call," Uresti said.

"Children's lives are at stake. We should examine this crisis now while the legislature is still in session, before it is too late," Patrick said.

For more information, please contact Ryan Sullivan at 512-463-0119.