Texas Child Protective Services Chief Quits, Special Prosecutor Appointed in Cover-up of Child’s Death

November 14th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The case of Texas Child Protective Services continues to heat up with the abrupt resignation of a top state official and the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Taylor County CPS officials allegedly engaged in covering up malfeasance.

As I’ve reported before, the case began with the death of 22-month-old Tamryn Klapheke.  Police allege that her mother, Tiffany Nicole Klapheke, simply left Tamryn and her two siblings, ages 3 years and 6 months, alone for as much as a week.  She allegedly did that because she was upset about her husband’s deployment to Afghanistan.  Tamryn died and the other two children were rescued near death from starvation and dehydration by police.

As the little children were struggling for their lives, Abilene Child Protective Services closed the file it had opened on Tiffany Klapheke.  No one had visited the family in 10 months, but the file was closed anyway.  Then, with one child dead and two on the verge of death, apparently the agency buried the file to cover up the fact that it had failed to check up on a parent who was known to be a danger to her children.

And the Klapheke case isn’t the only one in which caseworkers and supervisors seem to have colluded to keep agency documents away from the prying eyes of police and prosecutors.  They did that of course, not to protect abusive parents, but to protect themselves from workplace discipline.

To date, several Abilene CPS caseworkers and administrators have either quit, been fired or been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.  Now an Abilene judge has appointed the McLennan County (Waco) District Attorney’s office to act as special prosecutor to investigate Abilene Child Protective Services.  Read about it here (Abilene Reporter News, 11/9/12).

That’s a sensible thing for the judge to do.  Technically, Abilene prosecutors are likely to have conflicts of interest in any past case involving the local CPS, since it would have been their job to prosecute whoever was charged with child abuse or neglect.  More importantly, by appointing out-of-county prosecutors to conduct the investigation and bring charges if necessary, it removes both the appearance and the reality of one local agency’s protecting another local agency.

So the appointment of a special prosecutor promises to keep the investigation clean and free of bias.

What’s more intriguing is this (Dallas Morning News, 11/8/12):

Howard Baldwin, head of Texas protective services, has called it quits.

Baldwin has decided to step down as commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, after only about a year in that post, a spokeswoman for the state Health and Human Services Commission said Thursday…

The department he’s briefly headed includes Child Protective Services. It’s been hemorrhaging caseworkers, leading to backlogs. More recently, Abilene law enforcement officials have accused CPS officials there of withholding from them information on a horrific neglect case, in which the wife of an Air Force enlistee allegedly allowed a very young child to go unfed and untended. The child died in August…

For the short-handed agency, such cases are not unheard of. The rift with local law enforcement, though, is definitely unusual. However, it’s not clear what if any role the matter played in Baldwin’s decision to quit.

His is the second high-level change in the health and human services bureaucracy over the past two weeks.

Most amusingly, Baldwin is hiding behind the old claim that almost no one any longer believes.

“Baldwin is stepping down … to pursue other opportunities,” Stephanie Goodman said in an email.

Underfunding Likely at Root of Texas Child Protective Services Debacle

My guess is that Baldwin had nothing to do with the apparent cover ups in Abilene.  From here, those look like classic cases of a single office trying desperately to hide its own wrongdoing.  My further guess is that that wrongdoing stemmed mostly from an agency that is hugely underfunded and, as the Morning News article mentioned, hemorrhaging caseworkers.

As I’ve said before, Texas Child Protective Services is following in the footsteps of Arizona’s CPS.  Underfunding leads to under-hiring which leads to excessive caseloads which causes caseworkers to quit and leave remaining caseworkers with more than they can do.  That’s when children die for lack of state intervention.  I imagine Baldwin quit because he didn’t want to captain a sinking ship, particularly one whose job it is to protect children.

Of course, nothing excuses Abilene CPS’s cover-up of its multipe failures to act.  It should have turned over all documents to investigators and let the chips fall where they may.  Had agency supervisors demanded strict compliance with disclosure laws, the full extent of the underfunding problem would have been made known far earlier than it was.

But Abilene workers chose to preserve their jobs at the expense of children like Tamyrn Klapheke.  That’s disgraceful behavior, but those caseworkers and supervisors aren’t the only ones at fault.  No, the fault begins in Austin where state lawmakers thought a good way to cut government expenses was to deny needed services to helpless children.  Well, I hope they take a good long look at what their cost-cutting has wrought.

This is not the last we’ll hear about Abilene Child Protective Services or the state agaency that allegedly oversees it.

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