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An Expert Weighs In On The Child Welfare Crisis In Texas

Tatiana Popova

Governor Greg Abbott says the status quo at Child Protective Services is unacceptable. On Monday, he appointed new leaders for CPS and the agency that oversees CPS. 

Child Protective Services has been accused of failing to prevent several recent deaths, including some in North Texas. There’s been a flurry of resignations of local investigators. And a federal judge has declared the Texas foster care system broken, saying that kids leave the system worse than when they enter. 

Madeline McClure is the founder of the Dallas-based TexProtects,an organization aimed at protecting kids from child abuse and neglect.She talked about the state of child welfare in Texas -- and what the state should do to improve the system.

  Interview Highlights: Madeline McClure ...

... on the issues facing Texas child welfare: "No. 1:  Texas is one of the lowest investors in evidence-based child abuse prevention. At the moment, we know that we've got approximately 488,000 families with children ages 0-6 that are high risk of child abuse. The highest risk families are about 225,000, but we're only serving 21,000 or 10 percent of those. So in order to really change the trajectory and prevent kids from flowing into CPS, we have got to ratchet up the investment upfront so that we can save many more dollars down the road. 

"The second major issue that we're facing is how we respond to allegations of child abuse. First off, when somebody reports child abuse in Texas, when they're making an initial allegation, they call a statewide hotline. The average hold time of that statewide hotline is eight minutes. The problem there is that they have a 30 percent abandonment rate of calls. Some of the people reporting child abuse are teachers running between classes or an emergency room doctor between patients or a domestic violence situation where mom is not going to have a lot of time. So that is kind of artificially decreasing the number of kids that actually get investigations." 

... on the issues CPS investigators face: "We just overwhelm our frontline CPS investigators. There is no way any of these workers could do an adequate job at the caseloads of approximately 20 that they're carrying now -- up to 40 and 60. The Child Welfare League of America and the Council Of Accreditation For Child and Families recommend a maximum of 12 cases at any given time in order to do thorough work. "

... on how foster care is affected: "Just not taking care of our kids in the appropriate way, in terms of preserving children in families where they can be preserved -- or insuring that children that are removed find permanency in an adequate way -- with relatives and/or permanent adoptions. Children languish in CPS care and foster care for years and age out, having a huge increase their in propensity to become unemployed, homeless ... engaging in self-medication, substance abuse, [experience] mental health [issues], and very early teen pregnancy, where we start the cycle again."

... on what's happened since a recent federal ruling declared Texas' foster care system as broken: "Two special masters have been appointed by the court. The problem is that neither of them has any Texas experience. Every state is different and we have a pretty unique system here. We're the only state that has such a thing as temporary and permanent managing conservatorship.

"We have really more of a core belief in the parental rights, and the rugged individual, pick themselves up by the bootstraps and ... not interfere with families. It's a different culture. Judges in certain areas of the state are never inclined to listen to CPS and remove a child. The most important thing that special masters have to got to access the child abuse experts ... that have been working diligently in researching best practices and bringing them to Texas, in order to get informed.

"Unfortunately, the state [is] appealing the federal court ruling, so we beseech Attorney General Ken Paxton to drop the appeal and put the money, resources, time and energy and move -- divert [the money spent on] the appeal and put towards finding solutions for these children."

Madeline McClure is the founder of the Dallas-based TexProtects.

Photo: Tatiana Popova/

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.