Abbott signs bill overhauling CPS, foster care system

Governor Greg Abbott got a hug Wednesday from the son of Houston Democrat Gene Wu.

The light moment and warm embrace was symbolic of the bipartisan effort in the legislature that resulted in the passage of four bills reforming CPS and foster care in Texas.

"We wanted to do more than just put a band aid on top of a problem,” said Governor Abbott.

In January, during his state of the state address – Governor Abbott said meaningful change would be an emergency item for state lawmakers to work on.  Wednesday, the governor said to him rebuilding the department of family and protective services was the number one issue for the session.

"We needed a complete overhaul. True reform from top to bottom.” said Abbott.

The reforms include hiring more case workers, requiring more accountability and allowing more flexibility in finding ways to protect children without separating them from families. State Senator Charles Schwertner sponsored SB 11. The sweeping legislation, which allows local organizations to work with the state, gained traction amid reports of children sleeping in CPS offices and being put up in hotels.  

"This is a dramatic day, a transformative day for Child Welfare in Texas. What we did here today was signing pieces of legislation that will move the agency forward and will enhance community based care in Texas,” said Sen. Schwertner ( R ) Georgetown.

Change comes too late for children like Colton Turner.

The two-year-old from Cedar Park was killed three years ago.

An internal investigation determined CPS knew, or should have known, that Colton was in danger. But appropriate steps to find and protect him didn't happen. After the bill signing ceremony, the governor had this to say to Colton’s family and others who have lost children.

"I would do anything that I would possibly could, to bring their child back. But their family now has a lasting legacy knowing that they are a part of transforming Texas history, making sure the life of children in this state, will forever be better,” said Governor Abbott.

The package of reforms was prompted by a ruling federal judge two years that determined parts of the system were unconstitutional. The agency is still waiting to see what kind of changes will be ordered by the judge and how the new legislation may influence what's in that order.

State Rep. Tony Dale, ( R ) Cedar Park who was appointed by Speaker Joe Straus to work on the House CPS Working Group told FOX 7 the reforms passed not only change policy but have the funding to pay for the change. "So we've already raised the pay for caseworkers across the board, in the state, we feel based on past experience that’s going to result in better retention, and lower number of cases per employee so we think that’s the right thing to do,” said Rep. Dale who Co-wrote HB4 and HB5 as well as was a Sponsor of SB11.

Governor Abbott was also hopeful the work done under the capitol dome will not be ignored in the courtroom.

"So I think the judge should be pleased that Texas did our constitutional and legal duty on our own, to implement landmark legislation that will completely transform the system in ways that will make it better and the case should be dismissed,” said Governor Abbott.

According to state records, caseloads at CPS have decreased form an average of 18 per case worker to 13.

Caseworker turnover has also decreased by 35% since last year.