Even with $40M shortfall, state will hire 550 new CPS workers

Snacks from the rainbow room at a CPS office. CPS does feed the children full meals and often times Partnerships for Children have donated breakfast/lunch or dinners when kids are staying in the offices too. (Courtesy: DFPS)
Snacks from the rainbow room at a CPS office. CPS does feed the children full meals and often times Partnerships for Children have donated breakfast/lunch or dinners when kids are staying in the offices too. (Courtesy: DFPS)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The commissioner for the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) says his agency will hire an additional 550 investigators and caseworkers for Child Protective Services in an effort to combat the current backlog involving neglected and abused children in Texas.

Commissioner Hank Whitman’s enhanced methods to tackle to the problem is a direct response to a directive issued by state leaders last week. In his letter addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, Whitman says the state has seen a 10 percent increase in CPS cases since 2014 and not enough workers to handle all the cases in an timely and efficient manner.

In the letter, Whitman says CPS is struggling to meet the timeframes for initial contact and timely case closure in three main regions: Dallas/Fort Worth, Harris County and Travis County. “The additional staff resources will be targeted to those areas to improve timely face-to-face initiation of an investigation and case closure,” stated Whitman. Whitman’s plan specifically adds 200 additional investigative caseworkers.

On any given day, nearly 1,000 “high priority” calls for abuse children go unanswered by Child Protective Services. Another 1,800 kids were seen too late according to state law. On average, more than 11 high priority calls in Travis County alone go un-answered. A spokesperson for DFPS told KXAN Friday that investigators in central Texas have an average caseload of 19 cases per month, which is higher than the statewide average of 17 cases each month.

To assist with the investigations and help locate children and their families, the agency will hire an additional 100 CPS Special Investigators (SIs), bringing the total in the state to 179. Whitman states these employees will have some type of law enforcement background which allows them to help with the “most complex and serious investigative cases and when a child or family cannot be located.”

The agency will also have to hire and train an additional 145 Family Based Safety Services (FBSS) caseworkers and 105 Conservatorship (CVS) caseworkers. In Whitman’s plan, 166 of the total 550 new employees will be assigned to Travis County (Region 7) — the most out of the entire state. Employees schedules will also be modified to allow for four 10-hour days with overlapping schedules. Another 279 employees will have to be hired to provide supervision, support, hiring and training. A DFPS spokesperson says the department currently does not have a timeline for hiring the additional employees.

Still, some advocates say CPS has a problem maintaining caseworkers and the plan lacks sufficient changes to keep caseworkers on the job.

“I don’t know how a lot of caseworkers maintain families and are able to be there for their own children because of how hard this work is and how much time it takes,” said Dimple Patel who is a former CPS investigative supervisor and now works for the advocacy group TexProtects.

Patel says the starting salary for a CPS caseworker is around $34,000.

“There’s no wonder why we’re not recruiting the best and the brightest to these positions. I think salaries are an issue, but we’ve got to also address workload,” said Patel.

Officials acknowledge the department’s budgetary constraints as well as the shortage of CPS workers, but the leaders’ original letter says the agency still needs to “act now to protect our children who are in harm’s way.” DFPS says the total cost for the new employees is $53.3 million — the agency is already operating with a $40 million shortfall. State leaders say they are “confident” the Legislature in 2017 will address the agency’s budgetary needs.

DFPS says it will continue working with local faith-based communities to recruit foster and adoptive parents. In regards to the number of foster children sleeping in CPS offices, Whitman says it’s been an issue because the agency lost several hundred residential treatment center beds due to facility closures or poor performance.

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