Child Protective Services can begin hiring and paying more

Texas Capitol (KXAN Photo/Andy Jechow)
Texas Capitol (KXAN Photo/Andy Jechow)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The agency looking over abused and neglected children has approval from key lawmakers and Gov. Abbott to hire more than 800 more employees and give employees a raise.

The head of the Department of Family and Protective Services, Hank Whitman, said he needed more resources for the agency to do it’s job; look into cases of abuse and neglect and ensure children in Texas are in a safe environment. After tough negotiations four needed members of the legislative budget board joined Gov. Abbott in approving the $142 million emergency plan Thursday.

To get them to sign on, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Joe Straus, Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound and House Appropriations Chair John Otto, R-Dayton, ensured DFPS agreed to various updates and accountability measures to improve the “punitive” culture of the agency, so the new hires don’t quit. On average, four DFPS employees quit every day.

Earlier this year, news broke that the department responded too late or not at all to hundreds of reports of abuse every day. Department of Public Safety special agents were called in to assist CPS in October. KXAN found that in the first two weeks, 118 DPS agents put in more than 800 hours of overtime to respond to calls. Eight children were removed from possibly fatal situations.

Lawmakers missed a key deadline for the funding. Instead, they will shift funds from Medicaid and a federal block grant that supported poor families. Out of the 829 new hires, DFPS plans for 550 of them to be front-line caseworkers and investigators. The agency will also give caseworkers $12,000 a year raises and anywhere from a 10 to 20 percent salary increase to upper level employees. Lawmakers say those measures became a reality Thursday.

Will Francis from the National Association of Social Workers was excited saying, “I think it’s great that they took the requests seriously and understood the urgency.”

Francis says these funds addressed the emergency in Texas but ongoing issues in the foster care system and kinship support are deeply needed during the next legislative session.

“That’s going to take a while. They still really need to make sure they address the culture at the agency,” said Francis, “This is to stop the hemorrhaging of caseworkers and start to turn things around by developing and growing a staff that can handle the issues.”

“The most important action we can take to protect our children is resolving our caseworker retention issue — and that has been the primary focus of the Senate. Our work is far from over and rest assured CPS will remain under a microscope as these funds are expended,” said Lt. Gov. Patrick in a joint statement with top Senators who will watch over the implementation of the money and reforms.