Nov 262016
 

You may have noticed, but people in America say a great many things they really don’t mean.

I speak here of widely held opinions, not political policies. For instance, almost all of us want “law and order,” except we want it when it pertains to other people. We don’t want to get stopped at the airport to remove our shoes. We don’t mind that the NSA taps other people’s phones but get incensed when our own is bugged.

And children are our most important asset, right? I’ve heard that old saw so many times I get a little ill when someone — particularly a politician — says it again. That’s because in those instances when we have ways we could help children we almost always try to do it on the cheap, so the effort to “help” is almost worse than doing nothing at all.

Face the hard facts folks: For most people the most important asset is not our youth. It would be those assets with which we can buy a new car or boat or fancy computer — what is stored away in bank accounts. This does not apply to everyone but this reality sure has a stranglehold in Texas.

I’m not just noodling. The implications reach from Gregg County to all points beyond.

We learned just how close when a mother, who had already once been convicted of driving while intoxicated with her young children — and was under indictment for a second time for doing the same thing — seriously injured those children in a head-on crash while she was apparently drunk again.

The children are out of the hospital and likely to make a full recovery — this time.

You might ask yourself how the state’s Child Protective Services agency allowed the children to remain with this single mother after the first incident. Relatives pleaded to be allowed to care for the children but to no avail.

They were rejected, possibly because, as they were told, they were “too emotionally attached to the situation.” I keep telling myself there must be more to it than that because, frankly, such a reason makes no sense whatsoever.

None of us will ever know, nor will we know if the decision was primarily influenced by the CPS opinion or a judge. Matters involving children are among the most secret of all court records.

Here is what isn’t a secret, however: The CPS in Texas is so underfunded that a Senate subcommittee — dominated by Republicans — says an emergency infusion of $73 million for the agency is needed now. The goal? Simply to keep any more children from dying. It is not to prevent abuse, but hoping to prevent fatal abuse.

That’s merely a subcommittee and its recommendation is a long way from the help actually arriving, if it comes at all. Low oil and gas prices will make money tighter than usual in the coming legislative session and goodness knows we will want to continue spending millions of dollars sending state troopers to the Mexican border to stand around doing nothing.

In the past year, at least 87 cases have been filed by CPS in Gregg County regarding the removal of children from a home. If that were all that had to be done the system would not be in crisis, but it represents a tiny fraction of the cases CPS investigators must deal with. And not one of those cases is easy.

So what happens? Some cases get the once over when they should get a thorough investigation. If some are not cut short the backlog will just grow longer.

None of this is to absolve CPS from actual incompetence where it occurs. More funding is not the only answer but it surely is part of it. Unfortunately, it is the part we will probably find most difficult to resolve.

Face it, children are not a priority in Texas. If you don’t believe me, ask the child with a fractured skull or cracked vertebrae who got that way because their mother just couldn’t say “no.”

— Phil Latham is editor emeritus of the Longview News-Journal. His column appears Wednesday. Email platham@news-journal.com