A majority of elected public servants have failed to hold accountable a rogue agency that has done shoddy investigative work, kidnapped kids, exposed them to risk, and subverted parental rights. Bureaucrats at this agency behave this way because public servants created an environment where they feel they can act with impunity.

In other words, too many of Texas’ elected public servants respond to threats against Texans like they’re Dunder-Mifflin’s Michael Scott, rather than American Independence hero Patrick Henry.

Backstory

In parts one, two, and three of this investigative series, Texas Scorecard has tried to solve the mystery of why Gov. Greg Abbott fired former DFPS Commissioner Jamie Delynne Masters on November 28, 2022. DFPS is the parent organization of Child Protective Services (CPS). Masters’ termination occurred six days after our investigative report exposed DFPS as a deep state rebelling against Abbott and state lawmakers seeking to protect children from gender mutilation and hormone manipulation.

This investigation mirrored the Sherlock Holmes mystery “The Dancing Men,” where in order to break a coded language and solve a mystery, Holmes had to obtain more coded messages. The more he gathered, the more he could translate.

In Texas Scorecard’s decryption process, we obtained records from the Office of the Governor (OOG), State Rep. James Frank (R–Wichita Falls), and State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock) through open records requests. We also obtained information from widely reported open sources, and interviewed parents who claim they too have been a victim of DFPS incompetence and efforts to subvert their parental rights.

Texas Scorecard also interviewed specialists like Carrie Wilcoxson. She’s a former CPS investigator and currently a child and family case consultant & advocate. We first learned of Wilcoxson through a bombshell document obtained from State Sen. Perry: the December 2022 Final Report from the Texas Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) created the committee in 2021. Wilcoxson provided testimony to state senators about severe DFPS issues, including that a “statistically significant” number of DFPS’ investigative findings from 2010 to 2020 have been overturned. She emphasized that the individuals involved in these investigations are the same ones who conduct child removals.

Her testimony also highlighted that DFPS is rebelling against public servants. Specifically, Wilcoxson mentioned Senate Bill 1896, passed in 2021. “[This] made it illegal to place children in hotel rooms however, this is still happening,” she told senators. That wasn’t all. She stated CPS wasn’t following the Texas Legislature’s mandate, passed in 2021, that CPS inform parents of their right to record them during an interview, and their right to file for an informal appeal. “Are they implementing new state laws on notifications of right to record and write to appeal both verbally and written? If so, do the number of written forms that they have obtained match the number of investigation interviews?” she asked senators. “As a consultant on these cases throughout the state I can tell you that this is not happening.”

What comes together as a result of this investigative series is a disturbing story. One of DFPS subverting parental rights, doing shoddy investigative work, kidnapping kids, and exposing them to harm. And in the midst of all this, records from the OOG showed Abbott’s staff, and Abbott-appointed Masters, pointing fingers at each other. Masters mentioned resistance to change within DFPS, and Abbott’s staff said state lawmakers lost faith in Masters. But there appeared to be no urgency within Team Abbott’s statements to bring the rebellious DFPS to heel, and Masters seemed to repeatedly complain about and blame others.

A united front, and sense of urgency, amongst Texas’ elected public servants, from Abbott all the way down to the Texas House of Representatives, to bring all levers of government against the rogue DFPS appears to be lacking. For more than half of the 2023 legislative session, the Texas House, under Speaker Dade Phelan, took holidays and passed no proposed laws.

Wilcoxson herself is recorded in her testimony to state senators repeatedly asking why Texas’ elected public servants were failing to hold the Department of Family and Protective Services accountable for their open rebellion against them and subversion of parental rights. “Why is the department not being held accountable through sanctions?” she asked.

Originally, Texas Scorecard’s investigation sought to answer the question of why DFPS Commissioner Jamie Masters was fired. The simple answer appears to be that it’s because the Texas Legislature lost faith in her performance. But as this investigation continued, a far more important question surfaced: what is going on at DFPS and why have public servants allowed it to happen?

What is the message to Texans in this coded language of “Dancing Men?” The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which has the power to kidnap your kids, subvert your parental rights, and break up families, has a history of shoddy investigative work. They’ve exposed kids to harm, and a majority of Texas’ public servants have repeatedly failed to hold this agency accountable.

Wilcoxson does praise notable exceptions, like State Rep. Frank, whom she says has a “spine of steel” when it comes to DFPS, “in the face of an entire legislature that is not about accountability.”

State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood), and State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham), have also either proposed or helped push laws to reign in the rogue agency. But there’s been no massive, unified push to make DFPS heel. Wilcoxson herself has noted this and blames Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick (R). “The legislative temperature is set by our governor. Our legislature gets its marching orders from the Lieutenant Governor and the governor,” she told Texas Scorecard. “If they’re not speaking about accountability, our state legislature is not going to.” That failure has allowed systemic issues to fester and grow within DFPS, turning it into a poisonous rot that threatens Texas families and children.

DFPS’ kidnapping of four-year-old Drake Pardo in 2019 was a red flag that something was deeply wrong within the state agency. Wilcoxson’s study of internal DFPS data, showing that from 2010 to 2020, roughly half of CPS’ investigative findings were overturned, proved that the taxpayer-funded DFPS does not do world class work. “If you have over 50 percent of the CPS findings through appeals process being overturned, something is wrong,” she told Texas Scorecard. Then there’s the widely reported incidents of a CPS employee encouraging a 14-year-old girl to engage in sex trafficking in August 2022, and the federal lawsuit where Judge Janis Jack found DFPS had exposed children in their care to unnecessary risk.

This pattern of shoddy investigative work continued when DFPS jumped the gun while investigating a shelter for sex trafficking victims. Again, they were found to be in the wrong.

No Refuge for Refuge

Within the Senate Committee Final Report was a “summary” of an allegation of sex trafficking occurring at a facility known as The Refuge, and a subsequent investigation into that claim. Located in Bastrop County, The Refuge exists to provide “trauma-informed, long-term restoration community with on-site services for girls who have been exploited through sex trafficking.”

Clouds of suspicion fell on this facility after allegations girls in their care were at risk.

On January 24, 2022, it was alleged that a female employee of the facility “obtained nude photographs of two residents for the alleged purpose of selling them for cash and/or drugs.” The Refuge fired this employee. Rather than engage in a cover-up, they acted appropriately and immediately informed local law enforcement and the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Another incident followed roughly a month later. On February 20, 2022, two girls “fled the facility,” and The Refuge was informed employees—five of them—“facilitated the escape.”

The Senate Committee Final Report commends The Refuge because, again, they chose not to engage in a cover-up, but remained transparent. “This incident was appropriately reported to DFPS and law enforcement, and four Refuge shelter employees were terminated.” An employee was later arrested for “providing false information” to the Bastrop County Sheriff.

Damning allegations against The Refuge were made later after DFPS, and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) both investigated the incidents. They claimed “there was evidence of exploitation … and violations of minimum standards for residential child-care facilities.” On March 11, 2022, DFPS stopped all placements at The Refuge, and HHSC suspended its operating license. In June, The Refuge suspended all operations and laid off 75 percent of their staff.

As previously reported, March 2022 is right in the middle of when DFPS Commissioner Jamie Masters alleges those connected to Abbott are undermining her and that DFPS is a hostile work environment. Under her supervision, the state agency charged with protecting children made severe allegations against a shelter for sex trafficking victims and, based on their investigative work, shut it down.

Masters’ claimed the situation made Abbott’s staff nervous. In her October 19, 2022 complaint to Office of the Governor, she claimed her chief of staff, Julie Frank, had recalled hearing then Abbott chief of staff Luis Saenz state, “had he fired [Masters] earlier, the information about ‘The Refuge’ being publicly released would never have happened. Julie stated Luis was concerned about what to do because he was in pictures with Refuge leadership.” It was widely reported on April 19, 2022 that Saenz would leave later that year, which he did on November 17.

The Office of State Rep. James Frank (R–Wichita Falls) stated he is not related to Julie Frank.

But there is more to the story, and here’s where Gov. Greg Abbott shows up. In March 2022, Abbott ordered the Texas Rangers, an arm of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), to investigate the allegations made against The Refuge. Their findings were recorded in the December 2022 Final Report from the Texas Senate Special Committee on CPS. DPS Chief Col. Steven McGraw provided senators two letters: one dated March 16, 2022, and another dated October 4, 2022. Both letters were addressed to Gov. Abbott, informing him of the results of their investigation.

Those results are in keeping with patterns previously reported in this investigative series. There’s Wilcoxson’s testimony about how roughly half of CPS investigative findings from 2010 – 2020 were overturned. There’s also the experiences of Roland Ortiz and Cama Niccum, parents whom CPS targeted, only to have their investigative findings overturned. So too, here, DPS found DFPS had jumped the gun based on faulty investigative practices. In fact, the Senate Committee Report states that during testimony, DFPS “indicated” that their “timeliness of escalating the safety issues and priority of the investigation” didn’t follow their own policy.

“With regard to The Refuge, DFPS Commissioner Masters noted that investigation policies were not properly followed and that the regional leadership should have escalated the concerns and issues up the chain of command sooner,” the report states. “In the wake of the problems, DFPS terminated two investigators, however, the Department’s own testimony revealed systemic breakdown in communications and coordination related to the investigations into abuse, neglect and exploitation at The Refuge. Additionally, discussion between witnesses and committee members revealed a lack of effective coordination between DFPS and other agencies with statutory investigation authority or agencies that can provide investigation support, including the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Office of the Texas Attorney General.”

Texas Health and Human Services (HHSC) doesn’t escape criticism either. The report states that “only after the nature of the allegations and investigation findings at The Refuge were elevated up the chain of command” did DFPS and HHSC trigger their process for coordinating investigations. This resulted in “the removal of the children from the facility.”

McGraw’s March letter informed Abbott that DPS had reviewed DFPS’ letter to a federal court monitor about the situation. McGraw stated that, in their review of that letter, they “identified material inaccuracies,” and found it “contained information that had not been properly verified.” His October 4 letter added more detail. “The Ranger investigation quickly determined that the information in the DFPS letter was based upon a draft memo containing unvetted allegations and inaccuracies,” McGraw wrote. “The author of the memo was unaware that the information in her draft memo would be erroneously reported to federal court monitors as corroborated allegations.”

McGraw wrote that in April 2022, the Texas Rangers consulted with FBI Special Agents. These agents told them “that there was no evidence of a federal offense.” Both interviewed the federal court monitors to whom DFPS had made their severe allegations. These monitors said “they could not provide any information to corroborate any of the allegations that were discussed in previous hearings or in the DFPS letter.”

The Texas Rangers learned that the allegation that an employee took nude photos of minors at the shelter was false. The employee didn’t take such photos. After conducting 27 interviews, the Rangers found “the only two individuals alleging criminal misconduct were two juveniles who took nude photos of themselves while claiming that an employee aided them in selling the photos online on October/November 2021.” The juveniles themselves reported the incident in January 2022.

Just as what Roland Ortiz’ claimed his ex-wife did when CPS came after him, this incident as well seems to be another case of people manipulating the system to target the innocent.

What of the allegation an employee helped two residents run from the shelter? McGraw notes that The Refuge is not a “detention facility” and that “individuals can walk away without resistance at any time.” The two runaways were eventually found by law enforcement and returned. One employee, as noted earlier, was arrested for lying to law enforcement, another was fired “for administrative violations,” another quit, but two were “cleared of wrongdoing.”

“The Texas Ranger investigation did not identify any evidence that a Refuge employee engaged in criminal neglectful supervision, physical abuse, sexual abuse, promotion/possession of child pornography, or human trafficking of any child,” McGraw wrote to Abbott in October 2022. He noted that, after Rangers testified in August and September 2022, a grand jury “declined to indict anyone.”

Bottom line: while an investigation was warranted, DFPS overreacted, conducted a shoddy investigation, and made spurious allegations. They also displayed hubris by not asking for help from law enforcement, which investigates crime as a profession. “DPS testified it was only tasked with investigating the incident on March 10, 2022,” the Senate Committee Report states. “Prior to that, DFPS did not make any request to DPS to assist in the investigation.” The report also noted that Attorney General Ken Paxton’s team, which has a Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime division, offered to help both DFPS and local law enforcement. Neither accepted.

Above the Law

In addition to being incompetent, DFPS also is resistant to change. In her October 2022 complaint, former DFPS Commissioner Masters complained staff “were still fighting compliance” with orders passed down by the legislature. This claim appears to be substantiated by other sources.

In her written statement to the Texas Senate Committee, Carrie Wilcoxson asked why Texas’ public servants aren’t holding DFPS accountable. She also raised the question if DFPS believes they are a law unto themselves. “Does the department and its representatives (caseworkers) view themselves as public servants to the children and families of this state? … Is the department and its frontline caseworkers aware their salaries are paid by taxpayers?”

Wilcoxson wasn’t telling senators anything they didn’t already know.

The Senate Committee Report documents that, during the 2014 – 2015 years, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission made recommendations on how to reform DFPS. That report “identified categories of issues that imperiled the performance and operations of DFPS, including a pervasive ‘crisis culture’ that distracted the agency from properly managing its critical functions.”

Jennifer Jones, executive director of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, gave testimony to senators that is also recorded in the report. She told them DFPS needed to focus on “better managing its staff, listening to them, but holding them accountable [emphasis added] and streamlining operations.” The Sunset Commission did another review in 2017. They found that 15 of the 22 changes for DFPS related activities were implemented, while seven were “in progress.” That number got worse when it came to management recommendations. Of the 31 recommendations, 16 were implemented, but 11 were still “in progress.” “One such recommendation included requiring a criminal history check and preliminary evaluation of designated caregiver homes before placement, or to begin a home study within 48 hours of placement.”

No matter which way you look at it, DFPS is a mess. “Over the course of three hearings, witnesses identified systemic problems that continue to plague the child welfare system, despite increased budgetary support and other reform efforts over the last four biennia, including operational inefficiencies, chronic lack of quality foster placements, and high workforce turnover,” the Texas Senate Committee Report stated.

A study of the report shows the state agency has had no shortage of advice on how to improve itself. It also shows their reticence in executing said advice. The Stephen Group was hired as a consultant back in 2013, and they “provided nearly 150 specific recommendations on changes to programs and processes within CPS.” John Stephen, of the Stephen Group, came and testified before the Texas Senate Committee. The report notes that DFPS in 2018 “unilaterally ended” a pilot program he recommended to serve families within the “Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS) stage of service at DFPS.” There was also a pilot program he recommended to serve “High Needs Kids,” but this he said “was never implemented.”

Stephen told senators that state lawmakers and DFPS have a “roadmap” to reform the troubled agency, “but it just needs to be implemented.” One of these reforms is to decentralize their child welfare system.

This is a reform that Judge Alex Kim (R), of the 323rd District Court in Tarrant County, is well aware of.

How to Kidnap Your Kids

Handling CPS cases in Tarrant used to be the sole purview of the 323rd District, among other juvenile cases. Then, in February 2020, a majority of Judge Kim’s fellow judges acted to shield CPS from the job voters hired him to do. They redistributed those cases amongst themselves. Judge David Evans, then judge of the 48th District Court, said in a transcript that “consolidating” these cases away from Kim to other judges was “in the best interest of the system.” Sources claimed at the time Judge Kim was being targeted because he made CPS follow the law, and because he protected a baby’s life—Tinslee Lewis—from being terminated by a hospital in November 2019. As of April 2022, she was reportedly at home and still alive.

Judge Kim explained to Texas Scorecard the proposed DFPS decentralization that Stephen mentioned to state senators. Kim said he had a front row seat to this process in 2020. “When they started privatization, the plan was to do one urban region and one rural region, to see what goes wrong and how to fix it,” he said. “They chose Tarrant County because it was the only urban county with only one CPS judge.” That would certainly make things simpler if everything goes through one judge, instead of several. But, as mentioned earlier, a majority of Kim’s fellow judges ripped that advantage away in February 2020. And, again, according to Judge Evans, that move was done “in the best interest of the system.”

As previously reported, the Senate Committee December 2022 report noted testimony that judges in Texas are not doing enough to hold CPS accountable. Former Harris County Associate Judge Paula Vlahakos recommended to state senators “increased training for judges presiding over child welfare cases and for the lawyers who represent parents and children in those cases.”

Krista McIntire, a CPS consultant and parent advocate, also emphasized the power judges wield in these cases. “I am in favor of Judges having a full understanding of what happens to children and parents prior to ever being in their courtroom … They can’t possibly know what is going on and are only able to rule based on what they see,” she told Texas Scorecard. “The damage that is many times irreversible is done before the family ever has a court case. Judges are faced with a very difficult task and siding with the so-called child saving agency is the safest option.”

Taking into consideration the internal DFPS data Carrie Wilcoxson discussed, about how roughly half of CPS investigative findings from 2010-2020 were reversed, judges serve as a critical local check on CPS.

Judge Kim outlined the process of CPS seeking to take your children, and where judges fit in. Typically, it starts with a report of abuse or neglect. That can be an “outcry statement” from teachers or medical professionals, or a positive test result at a hospital for drugs in a newborn baby’s blood. There’s also anonymous hotlines to report neglect or abuse, or mandatory reporters—professions where state law requires them to report to CPS. “Then CPS starts their investigation, and then they try and figure out if the child is safe. Are the allegations true or not?” Kim said. “It can result in three different types of results.” Those results can be “Not True,” “Reason to Believe,” or “Unable to Determine.” Based on Texas Scorecard’s reviews of DFPS’ Administrative Review of Investigative Findings (ARIF), when an initial finding is reversed from “Reason to Believe,” it is categorized as “Ruled Out.”

Usually, Judge Kim said, CPS will file to require parents to participate in services. These services could be anger management classes, counseling, therapy, or other similar services. “The first two months are just waiting for CPS to come up with a service plan. You have six months to do the service plan. Either you did it, and you kept the kids, or you didn’t, and you lost the kids,” Judge Kim said. The six-month timeline is a relatively new restriction on CPS which needed to be enacted. “That was one of the problems. They would just move the target. They said, ‘Well, you’ve done these drug classes, but we want to add these other classes.’ They keep on moving the target on these parents,” he explained. “Well, when you set that deadline, that six months, that doesn’t give you time to move the target.”

This is the process if CPS follows the route of requiring services. Judge Kim also explained the process if CPS wants to accelerate matters. “Every once in a while, in such a dire situation and an emergency, that CPS will file a[n] emergency petition with the court to remove a child from a home so they can take possession of the kid,” he said. “That type of petition is done ex parte, so the parent has no right to know by law that’s going on. CPS will just go get a judge to sign it, and then just go and take the kid from school, or from the parent, or from the hospital, or wherever.”

After the child is taken, Judge Kim said within 14 days there has to be “an adversarial hearing.” “[This is] where CPS has to explain to a judge why the removal was justified, and to continue the removal and keep the child in CPS custody,” he explained. “At which point, a service plan has to be done within 60 days, or recommendation has to be done within 45 days by CPS on what the parent needs to do in order to get the child back.”

If the parent follows this plan, their family is restored. But what if they don’t? “Then eventually you get to the proceeding where there’s a final trial to decide whether or not the parent has their [parental] rights permanently terminated,” Kim said. “The law says this all has to be done within one year. There could even be [an] emergency, one time six month extension … for extraordinary circumstances.”

The 323rd District Judge is an elected position, and voters rehired Judge Kim for another four years in the November 2022 election. When it comes to concerns raised about judges statewide and CPS, judicial elections are among those offices on the ballot that don’t get the attention requisite to their level of power. Your congressman is unlikely to be as much help checking incompetent CPS investigations as your locally elected judge will be.

But judges aren’t the only ones who can check CPS, and its parent, DFPS. Your state lawmakers fund DFPS with your tax dollars and write the rules, boundaries, and limitations for state agencies on citizens’ behalf. And, of course, there is the governor.

Unserious Public Servants

The December 2022 Senate Committee Report contained confirmation that state lawmakers had failed to do their job, and created an environment where bureaucrats, like those in DFPS, feel they can ignore elected public servants.

Wilcoxson was a bit more blunt in her analysis. “I think [DFPS is] a soured entity that’s spoiled and unchecked, because there’s no consequences for the bad behavior,” she told Texas Scorecard. “I think there is a lack of proper training around very critical policies that really make a difference in these investigations, that then affects all the other stages. And then I think, the other part of it is, the systematic breakdowns around [employee] turnover also complicates this.”

The report states that “Texas has been slow” to decentralize their child welfare system, while “other states” have moved faster. Bluntly, elected public servants in other states don’t follow the Texas model of allowing their bureaucrats to defy them.

On May 16, 2022, former Assistant Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, and current CEO of Kids Central Inc., John Cooper testified about how Florida’s public servants dealt with their version of DFPS—the Florida Department of Children and Families. He said that in 1998, the Florida Legislature had moved to decentralize “all foster care and related services.” Like DFPS, the Florida Department of Children and Families wasn’t hip to these changes. While “there was difficulty and animosity from Florida agency personnel over the transition,” still “the full transition to this new model in Florida was completed in 2006, in just under 10 years.” This transition period overlaps the terms of three former Florida Governors: Lawton Chiles (D), 1991-1998; Kenneth Mackay (D), 1998-1999; and Jeb Bush (R), 1999-2007.

Meanwhile, in Texas, DFPS is nowhere near finishing the decentralization process lawmakers said they wanted. “Despite the funding allocated … over the last several budget cycles, only Stages I and II of [Community Based Care] are implemented in four areas of the state,” the Senate Committee Report states. “The current schedule projects full CBC implementation in 2029.” According to the report, the Texas Legislature’s decentralization reform plan started in 2017. By this estimate, 12 years will have passed before it’s completed.

The report also shows that, despite DFPS’ reticence and bad behavior, they have been getting ever increasing flows of taxpayer monies. “Over the last decade, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has experienced a significant increase in budgetary support, following each legislative session starting in FY 2014,” it states. “In FY 2014, GR funding of the Department rose from $719.9 million to $1.4 billion in FY 2022, or a 92.8 percent increase.”

What has DFPS been doing with the taxpayer’s money all this time if not creating a world class investigative team that follows proper procedures, and a world class foster care system?

Krista McIntire’s description of the foster care system in Texas represents a hellscape. “The statistics continue to show an overwhelming number of adults who were ripped from their parents as children, are now facing homelessness, drug and alcohol dependence, prostituting themselves, and or violent criminals,” she told Texas Scorecard. “The state already publicly recognizes that amount of foster care children swept up in the human trafficking problem as well as our mental health system. Are there good foster care parents and success stories? Absolutely. Have we destroyed the ability for more of those? We have.”

It’s not even just decentralizing foster care services. Throughout this investigative series, Texas Scorecard has highlighted the multiple problems within the rogue, defiant, and incompetent DFPS. With a track record of subverting parental rights, kidnapping kids, exposing children in their care to risk, harassing the innocent, and in one known case encouraging a child to prostitute herself, this taxpayer-funded agency continues to be a menace and a threat to Texas families.

Earlier in this article, Carrie Wilcoxson noted Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick set the legislative temperature on issues. Where it concerns holding DFPS accountable, she is particularly frustrated with Abbott. But why? Abbott fired Commissioner Jamie Masters on November 28, 2022. And he did it because apparently enough state lawmakers were opposed to the idea of keeping her around. Isn’t that enough? Not really. Wilcoxson points out that the role of DFPS Commissioner has been a revolving door for some time. “The commissioner’s position is appointed by the governor,” she said. “He keeps sending people to the department like a former commissioner.” An example of this she gave was when former Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein was sent to help advise Commissioner Masters. “When I was an investigator, [Heiligenstein] was the commissioner, and it was a mess then. It’s why I resigned.”

In her complaint to Gov. Abbott, Masters herself made a similar allegation. She claimed staff were concerned about “bringing back all these previous employees,” and that doing so was “undoing the changes I have made in response to legislative concerns, foster-care litigation and the direction child welfare is going.”

Abbott appointed Stephanie Muth as the new DFPS Commissioner, and she assumed the role on January 2, 2023. She’s no stranger to the state bureaucracy. She was previously the Deputy Executive Commissioner for Texas Health and Human Services Commission, from November 2011 to November 2017. This is the same agency that helped DFPS jump the gun and take down The Refuge, in what the Texas Department of Public Safety found to be a shoddy investigation. Muth then became the department’s State Medicaid Director until June 2020, after which she started her own consulting firm before becoming DFPS Commissioner.

Texas Scorecard asked Krista McIntire what she thought of Muth. “The only information I have regarding the new commissioner is her previous employment. From what I can tell thus far, she seems to be willing to at least try,” she replied. “Time will tell if Mrs. Muth is for the family, or for the system.”

Pushing Reform

While the Texas House runs the clock on the 2023 legislative session, both Wilcoxson and McIntire are pushing proposed legislation to try and force more accountability on DFPS. Wilcoxson said she authored House Bill 1289, requiring training for CPS investigators, and House Bill 1529, which she called “unique.” She said it would “create consequence for DFPS” if they didn’t fully inform parents of their rights to record, and file for an appeal, in a child abuse removal case. “It’s the first bill that I’m aware of that provides a consequence to the department for not following laws and policies properly,” she said.

HB 1289 is still in the House Human Services Committee, chaired by State Rep. James Frank (R), while HB 1529 is in the House Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee, chaired by State Rep. Harold Dutton (D–Houston). Neither replied to Texas Scorecard’s question regarding when these bills will be voted out of committee. Committee chairmanships are assigned by the Speaker of the Texas House, who in the 2023 legislative session is Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont).

McIntire is promoting Senate Bill 515 (reforming the Child Abuse Registry), HB 1085 (reforming parent child safety placements), and HB 475 (giving parents and their attorneys the right to their medical records). Only the last one on the list has been voted out of committee. As of March 29, 2023, SB 515 is still in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, chaired by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham). Kolkhorst did not respond to a request for an update on when the proposed law will be voted out of committee. Meanwhile, both of the proposed laws introduced in the Texas House were sent to the House Human Services Committee, chaired by State Rep. Frank. As of March 29, HB 475 was sent to the House Calendars Committee, chaired by State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock), which decides when to schedule proposed laws for a vote by the full Texas House. HB 1085 has been voted on in its assigned committee, but has yet to be sent to the Calendars committee.

While there’s still time to push these reforms through, a majority of state lawmakers still don’t seem to display the urgency of bringing DFPS to heel. The Texas House, in particular, seems to lack any sense of urgency on anything in the 2023 legislative session. “We’re just now beginning, after two decades, to start to see the legislative temperature for accountability checks and balances and due process just now starting to take place,” Wilcoxson said. “I anticipate if this continues three, or four, or five more sessions out, the playing ground will be a little bit more even.”

In the midst of all this, where’s Gov. Abbott?

“It’s always kind of baffled me that we have a Republican governor—who you would think would be the strongest advocate out there around protecting parental rights and family units against shoddy, inept investigative work—but for some reason, he’s not,” Wilcoxson said. “I’m not sure why the governor is not focused on accountability and pathways for sanctions for consequences.”

In Florida, elected public servants have created an environment where, when they act, bureaucrats take them seriously and get moving. Whereas in Texas, they take their sweet old time, apparently believing most in elected office aren’t serious.

Considering the shoddy investigative work, subversion of parental rights, kidnapping kids and exposing them to risk, and the lack of accountability, maybe they’re not wrong.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.

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