Why Have So Many Texas Children Died Under CPS’ Watch?

Interview: These reporters spent six months looking into Texas child abuse deaths.

By David Brown January 9, 2015 8:12 am|

Texas leads the nation by a long list of measures, but this may well be the most shameful: no other state in the nation has more deaths due to child abuse and neglect.

Beginning Sunday, a three-part analysis by the Austin American-Statesman will show that out of nearly 800 child abuse deaths between September 2009 and March 2014, nearly half those children were visited by Texas Child Protective Services at least once before their death. And 144 families in these cases were subjects of CPS investigations at least three times. In a dozen deaths, CPS had seen the family 10 or more times.

It raises a question: Why are these kids dying?

Eric Dexheimer and Andrea Ball, the Statesman reporters who spent six months on this story, tell Texas Standard the oversight isn’t due to a lack of information. “They collect so much data that, in fact, sometimes it’s overwhelming,” Dexheimer says. “But one thing that various reports have found is that they don’t look at it in an analytical way that can help them kind of predict where some hotspots will be,” as some other states do.

“CPS in Texas says that they’re starting to do that,” Dexheimer says, “but they haven’t done that in the past.”

The pair’s reporting uncovered more startling facts –including the fact that approximately 20 percent of the beating or strangulation deaths they looked at are still unsolved. But Bell also notes another truth.

“As unbelievable as it sounds, most of these parents love their children,” Bell says. “They do. They just don’t know how to be parents. You can see in these reports that some of these parents were involved in CPS investigations as children who were being abused.”

Martha Garay's grandson, Deacon was killed by his mother's boyfriend when he was two years old. Deacon's Superman costume was used to make a teddy bear after he died.

Laura Skelding/American-Statesman