Texas foster care children ‘at risk,’ federal audit finds

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A federal audit released Tuesday criticized Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Kyle Brown

By PAUL J. WEBER
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal audit released Tuesday heaped renewed criticism onto Texas’ troubled child welfare system, warning that foster kids could be put in jeopardy by missed deadlines during abuse and neglect investigations.

The report was published a day after the Texas Legislature ended a session in which lawmakers approved an extra $500 million for a beleaguered system that a federal judge called unconstitutional and that has worsened despite major shake-ups.

The findings by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are far from the scathing newspaper investigations or a December 2015 ruling that ordered an independent overhaul of Texas’ foster care agency. But the 18-page report still points to bureaucratic lapses that could put children in danger.

It said 46 of 100 Texas child welfare cases reviewed by federal auditors did not comply with federal state requirements, including investigators not discussing findings with supervisors in a timely manner.

Those failures “undermine the State agency’s internal controls for providing oversight of the investigation and could place foster care children at risk,” the report read.

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner Hank Whitman called the title of the audit “inflammatory” and sensationalized, while defending the thoroughness of his agency’s investigations. The audit said Texas didn’t always ensure that allegations of abuse and neglect were investigated in accordance with state and federal statutes.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott had declared additional child welfare spending and reforms a priority for the Texas Legislature. State data last year showed the state was failing to check on thousands of children who are at the highest risk of abuse or neglect.

More recently, the number of Texas foster children staying in agency offices or alternate sites because of lack of placement more than doubled from February to March, according to state figures.

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