SAN ANTONIO - As chief of the Texas Rangers, the state’s leading law enforcement agency, Henry “Hank” Whitman Jr. oversaw investigations into difficult criminal cases, public corruption, officer-involved shootings and more.
Now, as the commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services since 2016, Whitman was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to take on the state’s troubled child welfare system.
Foster care in Texas was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge, who ordered that changes be made. Arguments are expected to begin April 30 after Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the ruling.
Even so, Whitman said he’s made important changes and there are still more to come.
He said he’s even ridden along with Child Protective Services caseworkers, who he calls some of the most dedicated people he’s ever met.
“This is the hardest job in public service without a doubt,” Whitman said.
In response to the crisis, Whitman that, before the Texas Legislature convened, he accepted a lawmaker’s offer to dramatically increase the agency’s funding.
“It helped cover the hole in the bucket that was draining,” Whitman said.
As a result, he said, 550 more caseworkers were hired, and with a $1,000 monthly pay raise, the department's 700 caseworker vacancies were quickly filled.
Whitman also said the agency is seeing job retention increase and a decrease in caseloads.
He said he’s also started competency testing for supervisors that involves a difficult examination with questions they’ll likely be asked by caseworkers in the field and have to answer.
Whitman said he and his staff are preparing for the next session of the Texas Legislature beginning in January.
He said two of his top priorities will be child abuse prevention and outreach and treatment for parents with substance abuse problems, which are considered to be at the root of many child abuse cases.
“A lot of these families are trying to cope with not having a job, can’t get a job,” Whitman said. “So they turn to alcohol, they turn to drugs and then it escalates to family violence.”
He also said, “We have to do a better job on spending money on child abuse prevention.”
Whitman said, without it, more abused and neglected children could die or wind up in protective custody.
He said the Family First Prevention Services Act passed by the U.S. Congress will provide some additional funding for prevention, but more is needed.
“These are our children. They’re your children. They’re my children. They’re everybody’s children,” Whitman said.
Copyright 2018 by KSAT - All rights reserved.