CPS Investigated, East Texas Caseworkers Handle Heavy Load

Nearly every part of the state's Child Protective Services department is now under strict scrutiny.

Governor Rick Perry ordered state investigators to look at how CPS does it's job -- protecting abused and neglected children. The probe comes after the deaths of three children, and the accusation CPS did not do all they could to save them.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins: "Our investigation will uncover how we can more quickly respond to abuse and neglect."

It's a sweeping investigation that will last months. Has CPS done it's job?

In San Antonio, three deaths -- including that of little Jovonie Ochoa lead some to say "no."  CPS caseworkers had visited the Ochoa home, six months before he died Christmas Day of starvation.

To be reviewed:

*How complaints are received,

*The priority given to specific more-serious claims of abuse,

*How decisions are made to remove children from their parents,

*How decisions on placement in foster homes or adoption.

Former prosecutor and current family law attorney Alicia Cashell worked closely with CPS caseworkers for her seven years as an assistant DA.

"In this region, I think we have a core group of people who work day and night to help children in this community," Cashell said.

But in the mid-1990s, 1000 workers were cut from CPS and they haven't been replaced since. Despite that, the local CPS spokesperson says local caseworkers do cover the caseload no matter the cost.

Spokesperson Linda Cunningham: "Yes, it is long hours, but we are totally committed. And while most people are enjoying the Fourth of July holiday, our caseworkers were on call and were handling situations that arose all weekend."

Cashell: "Things like delays in an investigation can cause a problem. Usually that is caused by a lack of resources and a lack of manpower to get out there quickly enough."

The state investigation will look at manpower issues. But with a tight state budget, overworked caseworkers may be looking at a higher mountain of casework until relief comes.

A final note: Jovonie Ochoa's mother and several other relatives have been charged with the boy's death. Two other children in San Antonio have died amid allegations of CPS inaction.

Morgan Palmer, reporting.