Child abuse deaths and health care programs for women were the focus Thursday of a state legislative. Members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee were given a status update on those two hot-button issues. Administrators with The Department of Family and Protective Services were the first in the hot seat.
Committee members were told that the agency is upgrading its 17-year-old computer system in order to better track the children it's trying to protect.
A child fatality specialist has also been hired to identify children who are at risk and investigate fatality cases
In 2013, there were 804 child deaths in Texas-- most were accidental or health related, but 156 cases were confirmed cases of abuse. Seventy-two children had prior histories with the state agency which troubled the Committee members. John Specia, who was recently appointed to lead the Department of Family and Protective Services, told committee members he has already started making changes.
"Shortly after I became Commissioner I setup critical case meetings, we've delved down into those cases, we talk about our new fatality process, but we are looking at every one of those cases to determine missed opportunities, what happened what did we do wrong," said Commissioner Specia.
The committee was told the agency is working on new rules for how they select foster care families. They include more extensive background checks - including social media searches and financial reviews and they want to make sure those selected are doing it for the kids and not a paycheck.
The other hot issue taken up Thursday involved women's health care. The committee was given an update on how services are being provided now that Planned Parenthood has been cut out of the program. As state officials testified inside the committee room, supporters of Planned Parenthood held a rally just down the hallway. Those who spoke at the gathering, like State Senator Jose Rodriguez, claimed the new laws which restrict abortions in Texas have limited access to health care for low income women.
"As a result of these harmful policies researchers have found that more than half of the women seeking an abortion in Texas recently were unable to access their preferred birth control method in the months prior to their unintended pregnancy now this is an example of government intrusion at its worse," said the democrat from El Paso.
Committee chairperson Jane Nelson pointed out that during the last Legislative Session more than $100 million was put into the budget for Women's Health Care. Nelson, (R) Grapevine, also said there is an incorrect perception that services were cut and that needs to be addressed.
"Our goal should be to make sure women have access and they know where to go," said Senator Nelson.
It was suggested some programs could be consolidated with others and new educational out-reach campaigns should also be launched to let women know what's available. No action was taken.