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May 30, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Years ago, there was a daily newspaper cartoon about a basset hound whose name, unoriginally enough, was Fred Basset. One day, Fred was in a panic because he couldn’t move. He finally figured out his problem, though. It seems he’d inadvertently stood on his ears with his front feet.

I often think of that Fred Basset cartoon when I read about the Texas Department of Child and Protective Services. It’s all but non-functional because it’s standing on its ears, or in the words of a friend of mine, “it can’t get out of its own way.” Truly, the more the DCPS acts to address its problems – and they are legion - the worse things become.

Here’s the latest (Dallas Morning News, 5/17/16).

Now, readers who keep up with the incompetence of the DCPS know that it is now verging on a complete meltdown. The usual problems of high personnel turnover, lack of funding, bad management, etc. have only been exacerbated by the new face in the Governor’s Office, Greg Abbott. Abbott hadn’t been in office but a few weeks when a child died in the care of her relatives, having first been taken from her mother by Child Protective Services, a subset of the DCPS.

Knowing little of what he was doing, Abbott swung into action. He all but prohibited the placement of children on a temporary basis following their removal from a parent. That of course made no sense in a couple of ways. First, children generally are safer and happier with relatives than with strangers. Second, by putting those placements off limits, Abbott drastically reduced the number of places CPS could put children at risk of abuse or neglect. The foster care system has too few licensed parents as it is, so, without kinship care, where were those kids to go? The answer came back quickly: they spend nights in office buildings and many of them spend long periods of time warehoused in fantastically expensive mental health facilities.

Meanwhile, senior management is still fleeing the agency, a process that’s been going on for at least three years. An independent audit of CPS revealed shocking incompetence and basic ignorance on the part of caseworkers, many of whom have been on the job only a short time. Then came the order from Corpus Christi Federal Judge Janis Jack placing the agency under the authority of two special masters. Jack’s findings didn’t mince words. Among other indictments, she noted that children often come out of Texas foster care worse than when they went in.

Many of us have pointed out that Texas is trying to do child protection on the cheap, kind of like it does everything else except highways. Its pay for social workers is among the poorest in the nation, a fact demonstrated by the 27% annual turnover rate for employees of CPS. After all, who’d want to do such a high-stress job for so little? Case workers start at as little as $34,000 per year. Of course doing things on the cheap often results in paying far more than would otherwise be the case. The DCPS pays hundreds of dollars a day to cram excess kids into mental health facilities rather than a few hundred dollars per month for qualified foster care. Such is the “logic” of the state Legislature.

So it should come as no surprise that the latest effort to do more with less verges on the idiotic.

Texas Child Protective Services is trying to solve its caseworker turnover problem by reducing the education level required to apply for the job.

CPS caseworker salaries are rock bottom, as low as $34,000 to start. That wouldn’t bother people with just a high school education the way it grates on workers who went to college, Department of Family and Protective Services officials argued in recent internal communications leading up to the decision.

The new approach was first put into effect Monday with changed online descriptions of how initial cuts will be made among applicants for nearly 200 vacant CPS jobs.

Though officials said they were still working out details, the policy calls for crediting high school graduates and holders of two-year associate degrees for their work in related fields. In effect, they earn one year of college credit for each approved year of life experience in social and human services.

That’s right, friends. Soon, Texas children at risk will be assessed by kids just out of high school. Really. But not to worry, they’ll have “experience in social and human services,” so nothing could possibly go wrong. Hey, a high school diploma plus two years volunteering at the local food bank and – presto! – you’re a social worker.

A former CPS program director and a leading child advocate strongly criticized the move. They said the agency should strengthen, not weaken educational requirements.

“This is a last-ditch, knee-jerk way to resolve a problem that’s been building for years,” said Susan McKay, a former supervisor and program director for CPS in Dallas.

She said that it takes no less than a master’s degree to “understand the underpinnings of the kinds of things that lead to maltreatment of children.”

Workers must be able to think critically, McKay said. Formal training in psychology and sociology helps them grasp how abuse is passed down in some families for generations, she said.

Madeline McClure, founder and head of Dallas-based TexProtects, the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, said 45 states require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in human services majors — social work, psychology, sociology or education — with one or two years of social work experience preferred.

“Texas will now have the dubious distinction as the only state not requiring a minimum bachelor’s degree,” she said. “We get what we pay for.”

Texas has always gotten what it pays for. That’s one reason the DCPS in the sorry state we find it today.

Of necessity, the DCPS tried to put a brave face on a horrible policy.

“This will help us stabilize the workforce and reduce turnover,” Kristene Blackstone, the newly installed assistant protective services commissioner over CPS, said in an in-house newsletter late last week.

It may, but how’d you like to be a supervisor, who’s already vastly overworked and underpaid. Now, all of a sudden, you get to start training and overseeing 18 – 20-year-olds who possess not even the rudiments of an education applicable to the job they’ve been hired to do. And what is that job? That’s right, trying to protect children from abuse and neglect, trying to tell the difference between child neglect and parental poverty.

We try to convince ourselves that we care about children, indeed that we care about them more than anyone else. In Texas at least, that’s bunk, and nothing proves it quite like the new policy. Notice for example that Blackstone mentioned staff turnover, but failed to mention children’s welfare.

At a Senate hearing on CPS’ problems last month, several GOP lawmakers said they believe the state is spending enough money on protective services.

Nonsense. As the article mentions, the state pays people with Masters Degrees at the level of those with Associate’s Degrees. Is it any wonder so many of them depart for greener pastures? Texas may be able to retain more caseworkers by lowering educational standards, but, as with so much the agency does, children will suffer.

The truth be told, that’s OK with the state Legislature.

 

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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