Abbott signs sweeping child welfare overhaul into law

Laws allow CPS to place more children with relatives

AUSTIN, Texas - Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday signed a trio of new laws meant to improve Texas' troubled foster care system.

Abbott endorsed the legislation approved by state lawmakers from both parties at the headquarters of Texas' family services department.

Abbott declared more child welfare spending and reforms a priority for the state Legislature, which concluded its session Monday. Data last year showed Texas was failing to check on thousands of children at the highest risk of abuse or neglect.

"The primary goal of government is to keep citizens safe, and that is even more important when it comes to children in our care," Abbott said. "Children dying while in the care of the state is intolerable, and these new laws are a needed step to ending such tragedies. I thank the Legislature for their bipartisan support of these measures I declared emergency items. I'd also like to extend my thanks to all CPS staff for their tireless dedication to caring for vulnerable children in trying circumstances."

Related: Watch Defenders 'Broken System' special on child abuse

A federal judge has separately declared that the foster care system violated youngsters' constitutional rights and ordered sweeping changes.

Abbott cited "remarkable improvement" in recent month, while lauding the new "landmark legislation."

But he also said a complete "overhaul" was required, acknowledging, "We are in the early stages of this."

Rep. Ina Minjarez, of San Antonio, who was instrumental in getting one of the laws passed, said time will tell if the laws will make a difference.

"We don't know, number one, how effective these bills will be. We need to see them in action. We need to we need to get the feedback from the caseworkers, and the department and from Hank Whitman himself, and then see if they've been effective. And, if not, we'll have to go back to the drawing board," she said.

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Copyright 2017 by KSAT. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.