Abbott Names New Leaders at Embattled Child Welfare Agency

by , The Texas Tribune

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with Gov. Greg Abbott’s prepared statement.

At a time of heightened public scrutiny of Texas’ embattled child welfare agency, Gov.Greg Abbott on Monday appointed new leadership of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. 

Henry “Hank” Whitman, a former chief of the Texas Rangers, a state law enforcement agency, will be the department’s new commissioner. One of his top lieutenants will be Kristene Blackstone, a former caseworker with experience in Child Protective Services and the attorney general’s child support division, who will serve as Assistant Commissioner of Child Protective Services. Both will start at the agency on May 1.

Abbott said Monday that the new appointments marked the beginning of reforms for Child Protective Services.

“The status quo at CPS is unacceptable,” he said in a prepared statement. “I’ve insisted on overhauling a broken system, and I applaud the leadership changes that will provide a new direction and focus that puts protecting children first.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the child welfare agency, said in a press release Monday that CPS is facing “serious challenges” from high employee workloads and rapid turnover.

“We’ve got Texas’ future in our hands and everything we do will focus on making sure these kids have their chance to shine,” Whitman said in a prepared statement.

The agency has recently struggled with a spike in the number of kids sleeping in state office buildings and in psychiatric hospitals. Officials are also facing a recent federal court ruling that condemned the state’s long-term foster care as an inhumane institution in which children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.”

Last month, the death of 4-year-old Leiliana Wright in Grand Prairie led to the firing of two state workers and the resignation of another. And on Friday, news broke that the 17-year-old suspect in a homicide case on the University of Texas at Austin campus is a runaway foster youth.

Whitman will replace John Specia, who recently retired as the agency’s commissioner. Blackstone will replace outgoing CPS chief Lisa Black.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.