Senate work group recommends immediate funding for CPS changes

A room full of clothing, in case the children didn't have any clothes with them after they were removed from a home. (Courtesy: DFPS)
A room full of clothing, in case the children didn't have any clothes with them after they were removed from a home. (Courtesy: DFPS)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A select group of senators announced Monday they believe Child Protective Services needs immediate funding to ensure child safety.

Chairman of the Senate work group appointed to look into the funding, Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, says they’re recommending an influx of $75.3 million to phase-in yearly salary increases of $12,000 for CPS caseworkers and to hire 100 additional special investigators and caseworkers.

“We owe it to the children of Texas to get this right,” Sen. Schwertner wrote in a statement Monday, “The enhanced compensation plan we’ve recommended today will serve to improve morale, reduce the unacceptable level of caseworker turnover, and bring much needed stability to Child Protective Services.”

This comes after a heated October Senate Finance hearing where lawmakers and officials from the Department of Family and Protective Services berated each other over who was at fault for hundreds of children going unseen after reports of abuse came in. Low pay and high caseloads lead to an average of four people leaving DFPS every day.

This emergency funding would pay for less the Department’s original ask: 550 new employees. But Senators were concerned with an influx of new people into a culture described as “punitive” would lead to continued high turnover. They want DFPS to fix problems causing people to quit, first.

A starting caseworker takes home around $24,000 a year after taxes. That problem came up in the hearing and was one of the key factors to why Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, Chairwoman of the Senate Finance committee, created the special work group. “This plan not only protects children in immediate danger but addresses the root problem of caseworker retention. We need to target our resources the right way, or find ourselves back in crisis mode,” said Sen. Nelson.

The Senate work group’s recommendation does come with several benchmarks to get the money: a weekly report on the amount of abused children unseen, ensure CPS caseworkers are seeing 90 percent of abuse reports by March 1, and conducting exit surveys of staff who leave the agency beginning in 2017.

A DFPS spokesperson says they plan on beginning the hiring process Dec. 1. For the funding to go through immediately it will need to be approved by the Legislative Budget Board, a group of 10 leaders of both the Texas House and Senate led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

Lt. Governor Patrick was quick to praise the work.

“The production of this plan is a very important step and I look forward to working with Chairman Nelson and the House of Representatives to resolve this matter as quickly as possible,” said Lt. Governor Patrick.

KXAN has reached out to Speaker Straus to see whether he supports the immediate increase in funding. We are waiting to hear back.

But Gov. Greg Abbott’s office was quick to chime in. John Wittman from the Governor’s Office released a statement describing Abbott’s primary goal is to stop child deaths in Texas:

“The Governor fully supports Commissioner Whitman’s request for additional resources — including salary increases and additional case workers, as well as special investigators. We will continue working with the House and Senate to immediately secure additional resources to address the crisis facing our child welfare system and protect the children of Texas.”

Child advocates hope for this emergency funding to address an immediate crisis. Many expect a larger overhaul of the system when lawmakers go into their legislative session this January.

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