As Judge’s Ruling Looms, DFPS Report Shows Minor Progress Falls Short
March 9, 2016
For Immediate Release
CONTACT: Peter Clark, 512.417.9262
Austin – A new report from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) shows that the safety of Texas children is jeopardized by the high caseloads assigned to Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworkers. The caseloads are based largely on appropriations provided by the state Legislature.
The new Annual Report and Data Book released by DFPS, the parent agency for CPS, shows that in 2015 every foster care caseworker was responsible for the safety of 28 children each day, on average. The Texas average far exceeds the maximum of 17 recommended in the national best practices published by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). In fact, CWLA uses a maximum monthly figure while the state uses daily averages, meaning the Texas numbers are even more dangerous than a direct comparison suggests.
"When children have been through abuse or neglect and then removal from their homes, they shouldn’t have to compete with 27 other vulnerable children for the support of a single CPS caseworker,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children. "When children with complex health needs are moved from foster home to foster home, they need the stability and support of an attentive caseworker. CPS caseworkers and leadership are working hard to make sure children don’t fall through the cracks, but the Legislature needs to step up and provide the funding it takes to keep these kids safe and help them recover from their trauma.”
A federal judge recently ruled that the Texas foster care system is unconstitutionally dangerous for children, citing the high caseloads as one of the causes. In her ruling, the judge noted "caseworkers are overburdened to the point where they cannot perform their required duties, namely protecting their foster children from an unreasonable risk of harm.” The judge also suggested that the official numbers provided by the agency understate the size of caseloads, explaining, "DFPS also counts caseworkers that only keep track of one child, part-time caseworkers, and fictive workers who are ‘created out of all the overtime,’ which ‘are not actually even people.’ DFPS’s data already shows excessive caseloads. The Court can only imagine the actual figures if make-believe people are no longer counted.”The judge noted that the Department’s 2012-2013 Legislative Appropriations Request stated, "High caseloads cause quality casework to suffer, thus putting children in our system further at risk of harm.” She called on DFPS to conduct a "workload study” to better understand current caseloads and staffing needs. The state has appealed the judge’s ruling.
The DFPS report does show that the state has taken small steps in the right direction, reducing foster care caseloads from 31 in 2014 to the current 28.
Caseloads for caseworkers in the foster care system – also known as conservatorship or "substitute care services” – are even worse in certain regions of the state, according to the DFPS report. For example, caseworkers in the Midland region juggle an average of 34 children per day. In the Tyler area the average exceeds 32, while the Abilene and Austin regions are close to 31. The El Paso and Houston areas, on the other hand, are doing the best with averages of 20 and 25, respectively.
The new report also reveals unsafe caseloads for CPS staffers who conduct the investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect. In 2015, these caseworkers were tasked with an average of 16.5 investigations per day. While the state made modest progress, reducing the average from 19.5 in 2014, caseloads still far exceed the CWLA national recommendation of 12 active cases per month. Houston has the highest average, with approximately 18, while the El Paso region is doing the best, coming in just under 12.
The Legislature passed foster care safety improvements during the last legislative session, and state leaders have signaled that foster care will be a bipartisan priority issue for the next legislative session. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have both directed legislative committees to study foster care improvements prior to 2017. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee has scheduled a hearing on foster care for April 20th.
From the DFPS Annual Report: