It’s been a turbulent year for the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). First there was the December court order by a federal judge in Corpus Christi – a sweeping and scathing order condemning what she called a “broken” foster care system, declaring it in violation of the Constitution and demanding a complete overhaul with a special master to be appointed to recommend fixes.

Then reports from facilities in Levelland and Lubbock of urine smells, broken toilets and injuries leading DFPS in February to suspend placements.

Now, John Specia, Jr., the Texas DFPS commissioner, is preparing to leave. He’s announced he will retire in May.

Specia says he made a two-year commitment to the job, more than three years ago. Since then, he’s decided it’s time for him to be with his family. When Specia visited the Standard in March 2015, he foresaw a lot of the issues that have since become headlines.

“Our retention data is getting better. We’re better than we were two years ago,” he said in March 2015. “In three or four years, what I want is a tenured, well-qualified work force, that is well-trained and that is adept at protecting the children of the state of Texas.”

Specia, who will be 67 this year, said he decided not to do another legislative session, which would have committed him for an additional year and a half.

“It’s a very difficult job,” he says. “It is the most interesting and most challenging job I’ve ever had. It’s a 24-7 job and, frankly, you get tired.”

Specia says the Corpus Christi ruling wasn’t the tipping point for him.

“That’s gone on through four commissioners,” he says. “I was there when we tried the case in December 2011 and it was over a year til we got the opinion.”

Judge Janis Jack appointed two special masters to oversee the changes and the same day the Fifth Circuit Court denied a stay for the state agency. The appointees will study the system and provide a report to the court later this year, Specia says. The case looks at the foster care system over the past decade, starting in 2002.

“I don’t agree with everything in that opinion,” he says. “Matter of fact, I think we have a legal chance to have it reversed on appeal. But, at the same time, bad things happen in foster care. We need to improve the foster care system, but that’s not the answer. The answer is permanency – to get kids out of foster care as fast as possible and prevent them from coming in to foster care.”

Listen to the extended interview in the audio player above.

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  • Ann March 29, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    I worked as an investigator for 3.5 years and recently turned in my notice. Texas CPS is in more trouble than anyone is letting on. Foster homes are not the biggest issue. The turnover rate is high for good reason. They take employees who start with a tremendous amount of passion and skill, and they suck it out of them. If they truly want to improve the system, they have to talk to investigators and caseworkers. We know what can help because we are in the field every day!! We love this job and we love the families, but the leadership (outside of Judge Specia) is awful. We lost 100% of our investigators in our unit within a matter of months because it is so out of control. I hope the federal gov’t does something to help, because CPS needs it – especially in North Texas/Dallas!!

  • Cheryl Parker March 28, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    It’s only so much you can do and when the supply and demand is not there (meaning employee’s) it’s hard to fully do a thrall job. In my opinion, employees are overworked and paid less. Granted I miss the fast pace of the Department but got burnt out working 6 to 7 days a week ensuring I was within my 24 hour documentation. I have always said I felt that Mr. Specia should have taken a little bit more time and actively listened to employees about what changes would be more effective. Just in my unit alone, there have been 3 employees that left the agency within a year.

    The best part of the job for me was seeing families that I had the pleasure to meet say “Thank you for not judging me and helping my family!”

  • Lc March 28, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    That should say Levelland in regard to Children’s Hope

    • Laura Rice March 29, 2016 at 7:04 am

      Thanks! We’ll correct.