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November 1st, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
As usual, the State of Texas is touting its fiscal conservatism.  The state’s fiscal year ended August 31st and the state auditor has just released some information on the number of jobs cut from various agencies.  The results say a lot about the priorities of state lawmakers.  Read about it here (Dallas Morning News, 10/30/12).

One of the legislature’s chief budget writers was former Representative Talmadge Heflin of Houston.

“The agencies generally made a pretty good stab at gaining efficiencies and economizing,” said Heflin, a Houston Republican who was the House’s chief budget writer in 2003, when lawmakers also had to make cuts to avoid increasing taxes. “They’re running a little bit leaner ship than earlier.”

One of Heflin’s “efficiencies” was Tamryn Klapheke who was 22 months old when she died.  Her mother was known to local Child Protective Services caseworkers, but there weren’t enough of them to monitor Tamryn or her brother and sister who were close to death when the police showed up at their house.  Their mother, Tiffany Nicole Klapheke, had left them alone possibly for as long as a week.  The surviving children were three years and six months old respectively.  Here’s my post about their case.

The big news around Abilene, where Klapheke lived and is now in jail, is not only her abandonment of her children, but the apparent cover-up by CPS caseworkers and supervisors, several of whom have quit, been fired or are on administrative leave.  Police are investigating the cover-up in Klapheke’s case, but alleged past cover-ups as well.  There seems to have been a pattern of hiding the negligence of CPS employees in cases of child abuse or neglect.

‘Vicious Cycle’ of Budget Cuts, Caseworker Turnover at Child Protective Services

So are all those Abilene CPS workers just callous and uncaring about the children they’re supposed to be protecting?  That’s what some people seem to want to believe, but my guess is that there are as many bad actors in Austin as in Abilene.  The simple fact is that cuts to the state Department of Children and Family Services that includes CPS meant fewer caseworkers; fewer caseworkers meant higher caseloads for those who remained; higher caseloads meant more caseworkers leaving their jobs that in turn meant higher caseloads for those who remained.  Those unmanageable caseloads resulted in Abilene caseworkers closing Tiffany Nicole Klapheke’s file a mere six days before Tamryn and her siblings were discovered by police.  Those caseloads also encouraged supervisors and others to hide their failure to handle them.  Nothing excuses any of that, but there should be two spotlights on the stage on which this tragedy unfolds, one on CPS workers and one on state lawmakers.

There was a backlog of cases in the Abilene office at the time of the toddler’s death due to a shortage of caseworkers, [CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins] said. Instead of 16 caseworkers, there were six.

There’s a shortage of caseworkers statewide, he said, and chronic turnover is an issue. As of Oct. 12, the state had 1,495 case workers — more than 400 less than it should have, he said.

“We’re, frankly, caught in a pretty vicious cycle,” Crimmins said.

That vicious cycle began in the state’s capital.  According to the state Auditor,

The Department of Family and Protective Services, which includes Child Protective Services, lost 112 employees last year, a decrease of 1 percent. CPS is struggling to retain caseworkers and has had to pull workers from Dallas and Houston to manpower-shortage areas such as Austin and Midland.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office actually added employees.  Gregg Abbott’s office enforces child support orders, but does next to nothing to enforce visitation orders.  Despite touting the value of fathers to children and the need for visitation, the Attorney General’s Office spends only a tiny fraction of its budget on visitation enforcement.  Although Abbott isn’t forthcoming with actual figures, best estimates are that Texas spends proportionally less on visitation enforcement, when compared to child support enforcement, than the United States generally.  The U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement budgets about $5 billion for child support enforcement versus only $10 million for visitation.

So there you have it.  The nation’s second largest state pours hundreds of millions of dollars into child support enforcement and next to nothing to keep fathers connected to kids.  Meanwhile it trashes the state agency that’s tasked with keeping children safe from abusive adults.  And children are dying because of it.  Tamryn Klapheke would tell them if she could.

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