Texas appoints new leader for child abuse investigations amidst turnover and criticism

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ investigations division has witnessed an unprecedented surge in staff turnover, with four out of every ten investigators leaving their positions in the year 2022. This alarming development comes at a time when the state’s child welfare agency has appointed a new head of Child Protective Investigations to oversee the crucial task of probing reports of child abuse and neglect.

Marta Talbert, a veteran in the field of child welfare with 25 years of experience, has been named the associate commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ investigations division. This announcement was made by the agency earlier this week. Talbert’s appointment comes as the agency grapples with a record-high turnover rate, wherein approximately 40% of investigators departed from their jobs during the fiscal year 2022.

Over the years, the DFPS has undergone a series of leadership changes due to scathing indictments by a federal judge regarding the overburdening of caseworkers and the potential risk of harm faced by foster children. Independent court watchdogs involved in a ten-year-long federal lawsuit have found numerous instances where children under the state’s care received incorrect or improper doses of medication and were subjected to further abuse after entering the system.

In a retirement letter obtained by The Texas Tribune, the director of special investigations, Sharon Fonvielle-Baughman, described the work environment as “untenable,” citing a lack of respect from leaders within her division. Fonvielle-Baughman further revealed that Talbert, during her time as a regional director, was made aware of the poor working conditions for special investigators but failed to take any action until seven months later. According to Fonvielle-Baughman, the persisting retention issues can largely be attributed to long-standing leadership problems that have been allowed to persist for years.

Talbert, who previously served as the acting associate commissioner of the investigations program, has now been appointed to the role permanently by agency head Stephanie Muth. In addition to Talbert’s appointment, Muth also appointed Trina Ita as the chief strategist for behavioral health. This position was created by the state Legislature to enhance DFPS’s approach to addressing the behavioral health needs of foster children. Ita brings with her prior experience from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, where she served as the associate commissioner of behavioral health services.

Further changes in employment include the promotion of Lea Ann Biggar to the role of chief financial officer and the recruitment of Alyssa Jones, a legislative budget analyst, who will assume the position of DFPS’s chief of staff.

The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit and nonpartisan media organization, endeavors to inform and engage Texans on public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues. Stay informed with KENS 5 YouTube, where trending updates can be accessed.

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