Data released by the agency last year revealed that nearly a thousand of the highest-priority children on any given day had not been seen by investigators with the state's Child Protective Services division.
The agency has not publicly speculated on how much the reforms would cost, but one preliminary estimate by state budget analysts put it at "several hundred million dollars." Without early intervention in cases of abuse, children remain in conditions where they are likely to be vulnerable to traffickers.
But even when kids like Jean are removed from troubled homes, they are plunged into a broken system — one that at best confirms their mistrust of adults and at worst perpetuates the abuse.
Jean first arrived at the house with the red door in 2011, on a chilly morning in late autumn.
She had traveled there on a Dallas city bus, holding a piece of paper with a stranger's address on it.
Investigators did not attempt to locate more than half of those kids within the 24 hours required by law. State leaders recently approved a pay raise to keep existing caseworkers on the job and signed off on a plan to hire more than 800 new ones.
Child welfare officials say they need more funding to continue that progress; lawmakers say that progress has come too slowly to warrant additional money.
But when the girl’s john leaned in for a kiss, her body went limp, her eyes locked in an empty stare.
Confused, then panicked, the man grabbed his clothes and rushed out the sliding back door to his car parked in the alley.
"It's always about funding — we know that," said Hank Whitman, the child welfare chief, during a tense exchange at a recent Senate budget hearing.
"We either pay now, or we pay later." "We gave you the money you asked for," said Jane Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound and the Senate's chief budget writer.
Low-paid, overworked child welfare workers quit their jobs at alarming rates; one-third of investigative caseworkers leave each year.