A state law that requires Texas Child Protective Services to provide the public with more information about children who die of abuse quietly went into effect this month.
Although the agency releases some basic information about children who die of abuse or neglect, the practice has never been uniform across the state. Now, within five days of a child abuse death, the agency will have to provide the child's gender, age, date of death, and whether the child was in a foster home or living with a parent or guardian or someone else at the time of death. Law enforcement agencies typically release the names of deceased children, once relatives are notified.
Also, CPS will now have 10 days to produce a report to the public after the agency completes its own investigation into how the child died.
That 10-day report will include whether abuse was a factor in the child's death, a summary of previous abuse reports and those report results, and a description of any services offered to the victim's family before the death.
The law is the third attempt by state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, to get this information regularly released to the public.
He credited Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein for helping him craft a law that passed this last session.
“They have been much more willing to work with us this session than they have been in the past,” Uresti said.
“How are we every going to fix the problem if we don't know what the problems are?” he said.
Uresti first came up against the CPS confidentiality rules as a state representative, following the Christmas Day 2003 death of Jovonie Ochoa, a 4-year-old San Antonio child who had been starved to death by his family.
As a lawmaker and then-chairman of the Texas House Committee on Human Services, Uresti had access to all of the child's information, but the agency's own confidentiality rules barred him from discussing those details with the public.
“My hands were tied,” Uresti said.
Following Jovonie's death, it was revealed that CPS had visited his family the year before but lost track of the family and closed the case. About 20 percent of child abuse deaths in Texas involve children in families already known to CPS.
Three such cases this year in the Houston area prompted Heiligenstein to send a team here to review the agency's investigations.
Two-month-old Amber Maccurdy of Katy, 4-year-old Emma Thompson of Spring and 3-year-old David Lee Tijerina of Conroe all died from abuse after CPS had visited their homes to check on them.