Kristene Blackstone

Kristene Blackstone is associate commissioner for Child Protective Services.

COURTESY

During the past year, there have been remarkable changes at Child Protective Services (CPS). With Governor Greg Abbott’s vision of CPS becoming the best child welfare program in the country, the inspirational leadership of Commissioner Hank Whitman, and the generous support of the Texas Legislature, CPS is making real, measurable improvements.

We ramped up training for front-line caseworkers and supervisors, making it hands-on and supportive. We installed new, innovative regional leaders to manage our local programs, bringing fresh ideas and new ways of doing this critical work. Our employees are sticking with us longer, caseloads are down, and caseworkers are seeing children and families more often and on time. We’ve come a long way in a short time, but have a long way to go – and we will continue to steadily improve.

And like millions of other Texans, a few weeks ago CPS employees began watching reports as Tropical Depression Harvey became organized in the Gulf of Mexico and rapidly strengthened into a hurricane. When the storm hit, we went to work.

Those who work in the 24/7 world of child welfare are already heroes, but Harvey demanded so much more. Hundreds of caseworkers and other CPS employees were directly affected and 76 lost their homes. Despite the immediate hardship, caseworkers in the Houston/Galveston area who were evacuated and in temporary shelters spent time calling CPS families to make sure they were safe and had what they needed. Workers all over the devastated regions stood in lines for hours with families to help them navigate relief efforts. We reassigned dozens of employees at CPS headquarters in Austin to track down hundreds of caregivers of medically fragile foster children to ensure each child had medication, medical equipment, and would be cared for even as the emergency increased. Our faith partners stepped up to help move evacuated children to a Waxahachie shelter and provide temporary new wardrobes for 10 foster girls who lost everything. CPS and child placing agencies worked together to ensure that the nearly 4,000 children in private agency foster homes were safe and accounted for. And the list goes on and on.

Among so many stories, two stand out. In the midst of Harvey, CPS received a report from Wharton, a small community of 9,000 residents on the banks of the Colorado River, that five children were abandoned overnight as the water continued to rise. CPS reached the home and the children – but their route back out was now blocked by the flood. The two caseworkers spent six hours with the frightened children, trying different avenues to safety, and finally found a Red Cross shelter where they stayed two nights. While this was happening, these two workers’ homes in El Campo and Wharton were flooding.

Meanwhile, CPS employees in Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley got together on a plan to replace what was wrecked by Harvey in the 15

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foster and kinship homes in and around Corpus Christi. The first step was water, toiletries, diapers, and other basic necessities. Once those were collected and loaded, workers were ready to gas up and head to Corpus. But suddenly there was no gas! Two CPS managers quickly devised a plan to contact UPS in Laredo, and the company agreed to truck the items to Corpus Christi free of charge. The next day Commissioner Whitman helped deliver the goods to those in need in Rockport and Aransas Pass. 

These are just a couple of examples of how CPS and its partners worked to ensure the needs of children and families were met.

Have you ever considered becoming a foster parent? Have you ever considered adopting? We are elated to report that every single foster child made it through the storm OK – but wouldn’t it be better if they could have weathered this crisis with a real family, in a forever home? If you can volunteer to be a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), please make the call or go online at https://texascasa.org/volunteer/. If you can make a donation to your local Rainbow Room, our storehouses for children in need, it will make a difference to a child and family in need: http://www.tccwb.org/after-harvey/

Governor Abbott has been a remarkable leader – he helped Texas get ready for its worst natural disaster, and once the physical storm passed he reached out to hurting communities with compassion and aid. He is in many ways our model as we strive to serve and protect our state’s children. He has invested in CPS and we owe him, and all of Texas, our very best.

Here at CPS, while we know the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey will present new challenges, our employees are absolutely committed to bring our best each day. Our community partners are stepping up and together we will take care of the children and families we serve. We stand committed. We embrace our mission. We are ready.

Kristene Blackstone is associate commissioner for Child Protective Services.

 

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