Texas Child Welfare Boss Departing After Three Years

Hank Whitman addresses regional leadership at a Department of Family and Protective Services Leadership Training Conference in 2016. Whitman announced this week that he would retire on June 30. Photo: Facebook.

Hank Whitman, a Texas law enforcement veteran who was brought in three years ago to lead the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), announced this week that he will retire from state service at the end of June.

“Commissioner Whitman’s long-standing commitment to putting the needs of children and families first helped create a safer future for Texas,” said Gov. Greg Abbott (R), in a statement issued on Whitman’s retirement. “Because of his leadership, DFPS is left better than he found it, and I extend my sincerest gratitude for his decades of dedicated service to the state of Texas.”

Whitman spent 22 years with the Department of Public Safety. For 10 of those years, he served with the Texas Rangers; he was the outfit’s chief for the final three years. He retired from the rangers in 2014, and was consulting when the DFPS job was offered up.

“These caseworker jobs at DFPS are the toughest jobs I know,” Whitman said, in a statement. “There are lives being saved – and I mean literally – every single day. I am the proudest I have ever been in my career. I will never forget the people here, what they’ve done, and what they will continue to do each day when I’m gone.”

Whitman succeeded former Judge John Specia, appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry in 2012, at DFPS.

Whitman departs an agency that is fighting against a federal class-action lawsuit, filed in 2011 by Children’s Rights, which focused on the state’s struggle to find permanency for older youths in DFPS custody. In 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack ruled against the state, ordering a special master to preside over the agency’s Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) program.

Jack, in her decision, called the state’s foster care system “broken,” especially “for Texas’s PMC children, who almost uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered.”

The state has appealed Jack’s ruling with some success, though appeals courts have generally upheld her basic findings of problems with the PMC program.

One of Whitman’s mandates during his tenure was to move the state toward privatization using a “community-based care” model where a single contractor is tasked with developing placement options and establishing a continuum of services for youth in foster care. The pilot phase of this began in 2018 with six counties, and expanded to 30 counties later that year.

Texas has seen the number of youth entering foster care rise by 5 percent since 2012, according to the most recent federal data. Entries into foster care are actually up nearly 20 percent – 19,840, up from 16,619 – but that has been offset somewhat by an 8 percent increase in exits from care.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.