PANEL SEES IMPROVEMENT IN CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES
(AUSTIN) — The state agency charged with protecting children in danger of abuse or neglect reported lower caseloads, better employee retention and more face-to-face contact with children in crisis according to testimony offered before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Under fire from lawmakers last session due to long wait times and lost children, Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman says that additional funds allowing better pay and more caseworkers have made a big difference. "Our turnover rate is the lowest it's ever been," he said. "Our caseloads per caseworker have decreased a lot".
In late 2016, lawmakers approved $150 million in emergency funding for the beleaguered agency, which came under fire after media reports found kids living in CPS offices and nearly 500 children at the greatest risk for bodily harm couldn't be found by the agency. Employee turnover was high, due to low pay and high caseloads, and morale at the agency was low.
Little progress had been made by the time Whitman testified before Senate Finance in January 2017, rankling senators. "We gave you everything you said you need to do that. That is our highest priority. We need to find these kids," Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound told Whitman. "We're going to continue to prioritize these kids, but hear me: we've given you what you said you need….Your agency gets a total of $3.8 billion. If I had my way, we'd put all 3.8 billion in to finding these kids and protecting them. If we don't do that, what else is important?" On May 31, Governor Greg Abbott signed four bills that aimed to reform the agency. According to Whitman's testimony before the Senate committee Thursday, these reforms are working.
State regulations require a face-to-face meeting with priority one cases, where DFPS receives a report of imminent danger to child, within 24 hours, and within 72 hours for the next most at-risk population. Whitman told members that 90 percent of these cases meet with a CPS caseworker within the required timeframe, up from 73 percent two years ago. Morale is up at the agency, said Whitman. He attributed it to better pay and more caseworkers, which means that workers can spend more time meeting with families. Turnover has fallen from 30 percent to 18 percent, one of the lowest figures at any state agency.
Committee Chair Charles Schwertner, who authored SB 11, one of the major DFPS reform bills last session, was encouraged by the progress. "We have seen a significant improvement in timeliness of both priority one and priority two," he said.