During the past year, there have been remarkable changes at Child Protective Services. With Gov. Greg Abbott’s vision of CPS becoming the best child welfare program in the country, the inspirational leadership of Commissioner Hank Whitman, and the generous support of the Texas Legislature, CPS is making real, measurable improvements.
We ramped up training for front-line caseworkers and supervisors, making it hands-on and supportive. We installed innovative leaders to manage our local programs, bringing fresh ideas and new ways of doing this critical work. Our employees are sticking with us longer, caseloads are down, and we see children and families more often and on time.
And like millions of other Texans, a few weeks ago we began watching as Tropical Depression Harvey rapidly strengthened into a hurricane. When the storm hit, we went to work.
Those who work in the 24/7 world of child welfare are already heroes, but Harvey demanded much more. Hundreds of caseworkers and other CPS employees were directly affected, and 76 lost their homes. Despite that hardship, Houston-area caseworkers who were evacuated spent time calling CPS families to make sure they were safe. Workers stood in lines with families to help navigate relief efforts. Faith partners stepped up to help move evacuated children to a shelter and provide temporary new wardrobes for foster girls who lost everything. CPS worked with child-placement agencies to ensure that the nearly 4,000 children in private foster homes were safe. And the list goes on.
Among many stories, one stands out. In the midst of Hurricane Harvey, CPS received a report from Wharton, a small community of 9,000 residents on the banks of the Colorado River, that five children were abandoned overnight as the waters nearby rose. CPS reached the home and the children — but their route back out was now blocked by the flood. Two caseworkers spent six hours with the frightened children, trying different avenues to safety, and finally found a Red Cross shelter where they stayed two nights. While this was happening, these two workers’ homes in El Campo and Wharton were flooding.
Have you considered becoming a foster parent? What about adopting? We are elated that every foster child and youth made it through the storm OK — but wouldn’t it be better if they could have weathered this crisis with a real family, in a forever home? If you are interested, please go to DFPS’ website and click the “Become a Foster or Adoptive Parent” link. Or make a donation to your local Rainbow Room — our storehouses for needy children: http://www.tccwb.org/.
Governor Abbott has been a remarkable leader — he helped Texas get ready for its worst natural disaster, and once the physical storm passed he reached out to hurting communities with compassion and aid. He is in many ways our model as we strive to serve and protect our state’s children. He has invested in CPS and we owe him, and all of Texas, our very best.
Kristene Blackstone is the associate commissioner for Child Protective Services.