Troubling new statistics out from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released last week show fatalities from child abuse and neglect are up nationwide for fiscal year 2016. And deaths in Texas accounted for the biggest increase. Child abuse deaths in the state were up to 217, from 162 the previous year.
Both Texas and Indiana, the other state whose child abuse fatality rates have climbed significantly, have experienced upheaval in their child protective services agencies. Dimple Patel is associate director of Public Policy for TexProtects, a nonprofit focusing on reducing child abuse doesn't draw a direct connection, but says the increasing caseloads for CPS employees make it more likely that children will not get the services they need.
Patel is optimistic that changes made to CPS during the last session of the legislature represent a positive step.
"We've seen a reduction in turnover at CPS," Patel says. "The turnover for investigations, for example, has always hovered in the mid-30s, and it's down into the lower 20 percent area now."
Patel says caseloads are down, too, and children are being seen in a more timely period.
The opioid crisis played a role in the increased rate of abuse deaths, Patel says.
"51 percent of our child fatalities in Texas had a caregiver that was either actively using drugs or under the influence of drugs at the time of that child's death."
She suggests early intervention with families where drug abuse is occurring, along with expanding services for families who have already abused and neglected their children.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.