Over the last five years Texas’ Child Protective Services underreported 655 deaths of children from abuse or neglect by their parents, said the Austin American-Statesman. Caseworkers used loopholes to omit cases of indirect maltreatment.
In an investigative report published on Sunday, Austin American-Statesman claims that practically half of the underreported deaths happened in problem families, which had frequently been investigated for child abuse.
Over a quarter of families (144 of them) where a child died had been investigated by the CPS at least 3 times. In one case, the CPS had contacted a family more than 20 times, but still the child in this family died.
Having analyzed nearly 300 child homicides and suspected homicides, the newspaper reported that most of the children’s deaths were the result of beatings or strangulation. One child homicide case out of five remains unsolved, while some cases are “unaccountably dragged out for years,” the investigative report claims.
Sometimes a family simply falls off CPS radar, and this can have deadly consequences. According to the American-Statesman investigative report, 15 children died between 2009 and 2014, after the state agency lost track of their families.
Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the Family and Protective Services, stated the agency has always complied with state and federal laws and is not trying to hide any information.
The child fatalities missing from official statistics took place between 2010 and 2014. This was possible because of a law adopted in 2009, obliging Family and Protective Services’ caseworkers to publicly report any maltreatment that led to a child death. But the law has a loophole: it doesn’t require reporting a child’s death when abuse did not contribute to death directly.
This get-out was used by dozens of child welfare workers to evade culpability and keep the crimes under the radar.
In the course of the six-month investigation, the newspaper discovered that over 50 CPS employees had falsified official records, obstructed law enforcement investigations, flouted court orders or had simply lied to prosecutors.
Four former CPS employees are currently facing criminal charges for alleged misconduct.
Texas’ Child Protective Services employ over 3,400 foster care workers and investigators, and maintains that these employees represent just a small fraction of the personnel.
Details of the scandal were published at the weekend on the eve of a new legislative session of Texan lawmakers, which starts on Tuesday. It will be headed by the newly elected Governor Greg Abbott. The state’s lawmakers have already called for the Department of Family Services to be heavily scrutinized.
“I want to know who these kids are. Every one of these kids has a name and has a story and would have had a life ahead of them,” said Democratic Senator Carlos Uresti, one of the authors of the 2009 law that obliged caseworkers at the Family and Protective Services to publicize detailed reports on maltreatment cases that preceded the death of children.
The Austin American-Statesman’s new investigation raises concerns over the authenticity of similar statistics published less than a month ago by the Associated Press. In December, AP reported that at least 786 children – many of them younger than four – in the US had died of abuse or neglect at the hands of their parents or carers, even as child protection agencies were investigating these cases over the period of six years.
The AP report found there is no general statistic for child abuse deaths in the US.
“The data collection system on child deaths is so flawed that no one can even say with accuracy how many children overall die from abuse or neglect every year,” AP revealed.
“The federal government estimates an average of about 1,650 deaths annually in recent years; many believe the actual number is twice as high,” AP said, stressing that among many states that struggled to provide child abuse numbers, “Secrecy often prevailed.”