AUSTIN (KXAN) – The percentage of so-called delinquent cases involving children at risk of abuse or neglect edged up this past winter in Travis and Williamson counties according to records obtained by KXAN. That’s despite highly-publicized efforts to reign in those outlier cases where no contact is made with a child 60 days after a complaint is made.
The death of Cedar Park toddler Colton Turner in the summer of 2014 prompted Texas Child Protective Services to create and start using new step-by-step guides and checklists to assess safety and risk for vulnerable children.
Turner was two years-old when he was reported missing, months before police and CPS investigators picked up his case.
Both an internal CPS departmental audit and state-directed Sunset Review Reports had recommended changes to limit CPS investigator burn-out and solidify training and staff retention regimes under the hopeful-sounding banner of CPS Transformation.
Now, a snapshot of 2015 data we obtained through an open records request shows those changes may not be fully working, with close to half of all cases not considered closed, the records show in the case of Williamson County. That’s up from about one in five in January 2015.
CPS policy states investigations should usually be completed and closed within 60 days. Investigations that have been pending longer than 60 days are considered delinquent.
In Region 7, which takes in Williamson County and Travis County, the rate of delinquent investigations remained relatively stable from January 2015 through October 2015. In November and December 2015 and January 2016, delinquent investigation rates increased.
KXAN asked DFPS Region 7 spokesperson Julie Moody the reason for the increase. “We don’t really have an answer. CPS knows it’s not been due to a decrease in the number of workers, and turnover is unlikely to have contributed to the increase either. An increase in cases is likely to have contributed to the increase in delinquent investigations,” she wrote in an email Monday.
Updated numbers from CPS comparing open and closed cases from the first quarters of 2015 and 2016 are linked here.
Moody added, “The ultimate goal is a rate of 10% delinquent. 90% all cases current. But in reality, Region 7 would love an 80% all cases current. 20% delinquent.”
Caseloads per worker remain high
The newly obtained records also show caseloads per CPS worker in 2016 averaged between 18 and 20, slightly higher than that same month a year earlier. They’re still higher than a recommended national average of 12 cases per worker.
In 2014, KXAN first reported high average caseloads per CPS worker. In October 2014, after Colton Turner’s death was revealed and three CPS workers fired, 13 Master Investigators began work to clean up a backlog of 450 cases in Region 7.
Those workers left at the end of December 2014 after “closing” 452 cases. But in a fast-growing region, 334 so-called delinquent (those older than 60 days) cases filled the desks of seven Master and Special Investigators assigned in Travis County, CPS staff confirmed at the time.
Even DFPS Commissioner John Specia told KXAN last fall, Travis County caseloads remain a problem and he was planning to hire a consultant to look into the problem.
While caseloads did not rise in 2015, the number of cases assigned per worker remained fairly steady for Travis County and Region 7. Numbers were lower in the summer months when reports tend to decline since children are not in school. The average number of cases for Williamson spiked in September 2015 but then returned to levels described as “traditional” in the records KXAN received.
In the fall of 2014, Micheal Turner, 31, and his girlfriend Meagan Work were both charged in the death of Meagan’s two-year-old son Colton. In February, Turner agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence.
Work‘s case is still before the courts.