Child Protective Services investigators would get way more training if new state bill passes

Former investigator authored bill based on recent report, personal experiences

SAN ANTONIO – During the last legislative session, a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services report showed over 50% of the people who appealed child removals got the ruling overturned because of investigative mistakes.

“So the question is, why are they getting it wrong so often?” said Carrie Wilcoxson, a former Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator who now consults families and attorneys on their CPS cases.

Wilcoxson believes it’s due to a serious lack of training.

“Right now, the training is two-day training around forensic and interviewing techniques,” she said.

That’s why she wrote House Bill 1289, which would require instruction on 14 subjects, including:

  • The definitions of abuse and neglect
  • The required notice to an alleged perpetrator of the right to record an interview
  • The required notice of the right to request an administrative review of the department’s findings
  • The required assessment of a certain proposed relative or other designated caregiver placements
  • The department’s policy on identifying a potential relative placement before a hearing

The training program must also provide department investigators with advanced training on forensic investigative techniques and protocols. They include the following:

  • Techniques for conducting forensic interviews with alleged perpetrators and witnesses to alleged child abuse or neglect
  • Techniques to search for and identify witnesses and collateral sources who may potentially provide information regarding an allegation of child abuse or neglect
  • Protocols for photographing alleged abuse or neglect markings and scenes
  • Techniques for reconstructing events and statements using timelines
  • Protocols for collecting and packaging evidence

The program would also require investigators to pass an exam before working on cases.

“There was one case we worked on where the mom tested negative several times, and her children were still removed from her,” said state Rep. Elizabeth Campos, who represents District 119 in Bexar County.

Campos was one of many legislators interested in the bill, but Wilcoxson chose her to sponsor it.

“Me and my staff have done ride-alongs. We’ve met with the directors. We’ve met with the commissioner. I’ve met with children. I mean, it’s heartbreaking,” Campos said.

She supports the bill because it will help weed out what future cases actually need to be pursued.

“The last thing I want to do is put a child back with a family they should not be with, but I’ve seen cases where the child was taken away because the house was not clean. So rather than taking away the children, what are we going to do to work with the families to help them?” Campos said.

She agrees with Wilcoxson that it comes down to proper training.

“Those investigators -- they have a lot on their plate. If they’re inexperienced and they’re not getting the support, it’s not their fault. It’s leadership, and that’s why I’m getting involved,” Campos said.

She and Wilcoxson explained that while investigators are bogged down by what the report shows to be a lot of unnecessary cases, seriously abused children are slipping through the cracks.

“Investigators are frustrated. Frontliners want to close cases that they shouldn’t be involved in. They really are there to help, and they want to get to the child and family that really needs them,” Wilcoxson said.

She hopes her bill will help clear the backlog that plagues the current broken CPS system.

“The value of closing frivolous cases in the system — that means we get to children like Mercedes. We get to children like Colton Turner, like Josiah. These are children who had open cases, but the case worker was not able to get to those children because of the backlog,” Wilcoxson said.

Campos has already filed the bill. If it makes it through the state House, it will head to the state Senate, where Wilcoxson said there is already strong support.


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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.