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Texas names new head of child abuse investigations after high turnover and heavy criticism

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ investigations division has seen record-high staff turnover; 4 in 10 investigators left their jobs in 2022.

TEXAS, USA — This story was first published on the Texas Tribune, and can be viewed here.

The state’s child welfare agency has a new head of Child Protective Investigations, the department tasked with investigating reports of child abuse and neglect.

Marta Talbert, who has spent 25 years working in child welfare, has been appointed the associate commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ investigations division, according to the agency on Tuesday.

This comes as the embattled agency struggles with a record-high staff turnover — about 4 in 10 investigators left their job in fiscal year 2022.

DFPS has ushered in a series of leadership changes over the years as it faces scorching indictments from a federal judge about overburdening caseworkers and putting foster kids at risk of harm. Court watchdogs in a decadelong federal lawsuit have found that children in the state’s care have been given the wrong or improper doses of medication and have been exposed to additional abuse after entering the system.

In one retirement letter obtained by The Texas Tribune this year, director of special investigations Sharon Fonvielle-Baughman described an “untenable” work environment marked by a lack of respect from leadership in her division.

In the letter, she said that Talbert, in her role as a regional director, was made aware of poor working conditions for special investigators, yet didn’t take action until seven months later.

“Many of the retention issues may be attributed to local, and longstanding, leadership issues which have been allowed to perpetuate for years,” Fonvielle-Baughman wrote. She worked for the agency for 10 years.

Talbert was the acting associate commissioner of the investigations program when agency head Stephanie Muth selected her to fill the role permanently on Tuesday.

Muth also appointed Trina Ita as the chief strategist for behavioral health. The state Legislature created the position to help DFPS better address behavioral health needs of foster kids. Ita previously worked for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, where she was the associate commissioner of behavioral health services.

Other employment changes include Lea Ann Biggar, who will be promoted to chief financial officer, and Alyssa Jones, a legislative budget analyst, who will be brought in to work as DFPS’s chief of staff.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


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