For weeks and months – and we would say years – headlines across the state and legislative hearings have shown that the state is failing to protect children at risk of abuse or neglect and failing to ensure that children entering foster care have a safe home and appropriate services to help them heal.
Fortunately, state leaders have taken note and made clear that protecting kids is now one of their top priorities.
In the coming days, Texans will be watching to see if they pass their first test since naming the issue a priority or if all the recent talk about protecting kids was just that: talk.
The Commissioner of DFPS, the parent agency to CPS, recently requested emergency funding to hire 550 new caseworkers to address the backlog of children who have not been checked on by the agency who could be in harm’s way.
At a hearing last week, State Senators forcefully pointed out that the Commissioner’s hiring plan must be accompanied by a pay raise plan to stem out-of-control staff turnover at the agency. Give Senators credit for demanding a pay raise plan. One-third of investigations caseworkers quit every year. The high turnover is one of the reasons that caseworkers have such high caseloads and that days and weeks tick by before investigations into abuse and neglect take place. Raising pay to cut turnover also makes economic sense: training each new caseworker costs the state $54,000.
The Commissioner quickly responded with a plan to raise salaries by $1,000 per month. The plan is modeled after a similar pay raise that cut caseworker turnover in West Texas by 50 percent over three years.
The Commissioner’s hiring and pay raise plans are now in the hands of a small number of state leaders: Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Joe Straus, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, and the five members of a CPS subcommittee named by Chair Nelson: Senators Birdwell, Kolkhorst, Schwertner, Watson, and Whitmire. A decision is expected soon.
State leaders will face additional tests on CPS in the coming weeks and months. To ensure that children have a safe home and appropriate support if they are removed from their families, the state must increase reimbursement rates for these services. To ensure more children can stay safely with their families and reduce the need to expand foster care capacity, legislators should expand prevention programs that support at-risk families.
But this week, Texans are watching to see how state leaders handle their first child protection test since declaring the issue a top priority: the Commissioner’s plan for pay raises and new hires. If they fail, more kids will suffer. CPS is in urgent need of funding, and if state leaders meet that need they will deserve credit for passing this first test.
Stay tuned to find out whether state leaders will put some money where their mouth is.