Child advocates say Texas needs stronger safety net for at-risk children

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – Following a string of high-profile child abuse cases in the Houston area, child advocates argue Texas needs to change its priorities when it comes to providing a safety net for abused and neglected children.

“We’ve seen this year, after year, after year with these shocking cases, and really nothing happens,” said Dr. Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk.

When three children were found living by themselves with the decaying corpse of their brother, Child Protective Services officials said they had been involved in this family’s life in the past, but were not involved at the time the children were found abandoned.

“What you will find in some of these cases where they were no longer CPS cases, maybe they should have stayed CPS cases,” said Sanborn. “This case should be a wake-up call that we need to do more.”

“After a CPS case is closed, the agency becomes involved with a family again if/when a new report about suspected neglect or abuse is received,” a CPS spokesperson told KPRC 2.

Sanborn argues that Texas needs a better strategy for monitoring family’s, even after they’ve gotten help.

“Maybe with proper staffing and a with a proper mission, you’d find that kids that are liable to fall through the cracks are the very kids we continue to follow,” he said.

There have been a string of high-profile deadly child abuse cases in Houston this year. In March, CPS investigated accusations Keyontae Holzendorf was being abused. Three weeks later, the 8-year-old was dead. This summer police said 5-year-old Samuel Olson was killed by his father’s girlfriend. CPS had not been involved in Olson’s life but had dealt with the woman accused of killing him.

As KPRC 2 reported, child fatalities rose 7% in 2020, with neglectful supervision being the main cause. Sanborn said developing a more long-term approach to child abuse and neglect is what’s needed.

“When something goes wrong, we know there’s something there and these kids are flagged and we’re following them. The right things are happening for these children,” said Sanborn.