by Brian M. Rosenthal
AUSTIN – The head of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services announced Friday he would retire soon, ending a tenure marked by criticism of the state foster care system and a spike in child deaths.
The department commissioner, John Specia, Jr., said he would step down at the end of May. No replacement has yet been chosen for the agency, according to the state.
Specia, a former family law judge who was appointed to lead the department in late 2012, earned a good reputation among lawmakers and other officials, but he also at times faced significant criticism.
"He's had a very difficult job," said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children, an Austin-based advocacy group, "in large part because the Legislature has not provided DFPS with the funding it really takes to protect kids, keep families safely together, and ensure foster care is a place for stability and healing. The next commissioner will enter at the beginning of a new era as the courts make clear that state leaders have a legal and moral obligation to vastly improve our state's foster care system."
Specia said in the news release that it has been an honor to work with his coworkers.
"I never cease to be amazed at the way our team fights for our kids and vulnerable adults, no matter the circumstances," he said. "I know they will continue to put at-risk Texans first as the HHS system transforms itself in the coming months and years."