A Case of Neglect

A Case of Neglect

Dave Mann

A Case of Neglect

n November 30, Daisy Perales turned 5. She spent her birthday in a San Antonio intensive care unit, suffering from two massive head wounds and a lacerated spleen, the result of a beating from her mother. Daisy weighed 20 pounds. With no chance of recovery, Daisy was taken off life-support the day after her birthday. She died that afternoon. The San Antonio Express-News later revealed that the state’s Child Protective Services (CPS) division had been warned of abuse in Daisy’s home 12 times, and the department had opened seven different investigations. Yet nothing was done. Daisy is just one of the more than 180 Texas children who died from abuse in 2004 alone. Their stories have been all over the news this past year. In Arlington, 9-year-old Davontae Williams was found lying dead on the bathroom floor of his mother’s apartment. He had starved to death. CPS had investigated Davontae’s mother six times. In Plano, a deranged mother killed her 10-month-old daughter by cutting off the child’s arms with a kitchen knife. When police arrived, the woman was covered in her child’s blood and chanting religious hymns. Four months earlier, CPS had closed its investigation of the woman. The agency had classified her mental state as stable. Last summer, gruesome tales also began to emerge about failures in the state’s Adult Protective Services division (APS), which is supposed to guard the welfare of the elderly. How did the state’s care for at-risk children and the elderly fall into such disrepair? Put simply, a lack of money. In 1995, after years of under-funding, the state cut more than 500 positions from CPS. By 2000, Texas’s funding of CPS was 60 percent below the national average ($110 spent per Texas child compared to $277 nationally), according to the progressive think-tank Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP). Population increases have only exacerbated the problem. The lack of funding has eroded the system to the point that state workers simply can’t look out for all the kids. Advocacy groups recommend that a state caseworker handle 12 to 15 abuse cases per month. The national average is about 25. In Texas, each worker at the depleted CPS handles a monthly average of 74 cases. In San Antonio, the average is 100. In the wake of the tragedies, a stampede of politicians rushed forward to decry the situation. Governor Rick Perry and Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) have already released proposals to reform the agencies. The plans are serious and well-intentioned. But the question remains, will the usually miserly governor and legislative leadership spend the money required to fix the system? Or will they reach for cosmetic solutions such as privatization? The proposals call for adding roughly $330 million in new state spending for CPS and APS. Average CPS caseloads would fall to 45 per month (still almost double the national average). That’s a good start. But it’s not enough. CPPP estimates that just to reach national averages would require an additional $900 million in new funding. The crisis in CPS and APS is just the beginning. Stay tuned for horror stories from the emaciated public mental health system. Then perhaps from the overcrowded prisons. Like CPS, these tragedies will stem from the simple fact that Texas spends far less on its citizens than any other state in the nation. Fixing the current crisis and preventing future ones will cost a lot of money. What we’ve seen in the past year, however, is just the beginning of the consequences of not making those investments. —DM

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Dave Mann is a former editor of the Observer.

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