Senator Jane Nelson: “We Have to Get It Right on CPS”

October 27, 2016

AUSTIN – The Texas Senate Finance Committee met yesterday to discuss reform ideas to Child Protective Services and ideas to ensure timely contact with children at immediate risk of abuse of neglect, and other proposals to improve child safety. A recent report issued by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services highlighted that roughly 1,000 of the state’s “highest priority” children were never even checked on by a CPS investigator.

“We have to get it right on CPS,” said Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson (R- Flower Mound). “We need to better understand what investments are working and what improvements are needed. We need an action plan that will keep children safe.”

A recent letter by Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Dan Patrick, and Speaker Joe Straus directed Hank Whitman, the department commissioner, to develop a plan to train and hire more special investigators to address the backlog of kids who have not had an in person meeting with Child Protective Services. As noted during testimony, the Texas Legislature allocated a roughly $315 million in additional funding, in all funds, for CPS over what they received last year.

“The current system has terrible turnover of needy kids in the CPS programs,” said Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). “A terrible turnover of kids, a terrible turnover of employees, and a terrible turnover of taxpayers dollars does not benefit anyone. You cannot hire your way out of the problem. The more people you bring on without training, the more it makes the matter worse.”

The Department of Family and Protective Services announced a plan to hire an additional 550 front line investigators, special investigators, and caseworkers, however turnover remains a large problem with the department. Statistics from the Department of Family Protective Services for Fiscal Year 2015 showed that there were 2,133 caseworkers, and had a 25% turnover rate for the full agency. The turnover rates went higher in other departments, as investigators saw a 33% turnover rate, and, per Senator Uresti (D- San Antonio), there was an overall 46% first year attrition rate. “This means you are losing four employees a day, and 550 new employees would only buy you 125 days. This is not a solution. We need to look at retention,” added Senator Bettencourt.

This sentiment was further highlighted by Senator Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) who added, “The environment and the climate in which case workers do their job are the first and second reason for case workers to turnover. Until those are fixed, this is like filling up a pail that has a hole in the bottom.”

During the hearing Committee Chair Jane Nelson announced that she was appointing a workgroup to study additional recommendations that would be made tomorrow by CPS Commissioner Whitman. Senator Schwertner will chair the workgroup, and Senator’s Whitmire, Watson, Kolkhorst, and Birdwell will join him.

Senator Nelson concluded, “You know how I feel about zero based budgeting. I am asking this group to take the budget down to $0 and look at every single penny of the $2.8 billion, and give their feedback on whether this plan addresses the current crisis that we are facing.”

The workgroup, appointed by Senator Nelson, will meet today.

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