The death of a 4-year-old Grand Prairie girl, Leiliana Wright, has prompted a shift within Child Protective Services to resolve a major backlog of Dallas County cases.
The shift involves Tarrant County peace officers who are CPS special investigators taking on cases and being told to resolve them within 30 days. Not everyone in the agency agrees with that solution.
The Prominent Peace Officer organization based in Austin believes too much is being asked of the CPS special investigators or the officers who handle the law enforcement work necessary with CPS cases.
The leader of Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT, is not mincing words when it comes to a recent CPS mandate involving Tarrant County peace officers.
"It's highly irregular,” said Charley Wilkison with CLEAT. “You wouldn't try this in some other state and get away with it. Texas is just trying to get by on the cheap."
The directive orders 38 Tarrant County special investigators to help clear a backlog of CPS cases in Dallas County to “take 10 cases each as a primary and resolve them over the next 30 days.... this will result in their helping with close to 400 cases."
Wilkison mentions the mandate in a letter he wrote to CPS Commissioner Henry Whitman Jr. to express his objection. He says the peace officer’s role is about securing a child's safety, not the 'all encompassing" social work of CPS case workers.
"Case workers are highly skilled people,” explained Wilkison. “And they're looking at whether or not there’s enough income there for the family, whether or not they've got enough groceries, whether they're protecting them with insurance, whether the roof is leaking. Peace officers are deciding whether or not that child's life is in danger."
In March, the death of 4-year old Leiliana Wright put the spotlight on the serious problem of the Dallas County case backlog. The case worker assigned to her was juggling roughly 70 cases, far more than the recommended 12.
Wilkison says the solution should involve hiring more case workers and peace officers.
"It’s just a bad deal all the way around. It’s bad management,” said Wilkison. “CPS has just fallen on bad times for years and years. There's just been no leadership."
Wilkison expressed the temporary CPS order to have Tarrant County officers handle additional Dallas County cases could put children's lives in jeopardy.
"Some other child is going to be in jeopardy. Some other runaway will be on the street and fall into human trafficking, into drug abuse, into prostitution,” said Wilkison. “And there won't be anything anybody can do because they're over across county lines doing somebody else's work because we're shorthanded."
The directive to Tarrant County CPS special investigators is said to have been sent out May 31. That would see the 30-day period lasting through the end of June.