December 10, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Things are heating up around the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The next few months promise real fireworks.
Assiduous readers of this blog will remember the many scandals that plagued the DFPS for years. Most of that – perhaps all of that – stemmed from the fact that the state budgeted too little money to operate a proper system of child protection. Too little money meant too few caseworkers who had too little experience. That meant inexperienced caseworkers were expected to handle caseloads that ran two or three times industry standards. Low pay and high caseloads in turn resulted in stratospheric levels of caseworker turnover.
It was a dysfunctional system by any measure and children suffered because of it.
So the state got sued and two years ago, federal Judge Janice Jack issued findings that excoriated the agency. Among many other things, Jack wrote that often children left foster care in worse shape than when they arrived. Jack appointed two special masters to make recommendations for reform of the child protective system in the Lone Star State.
Apparently, that all looked pretty serious to lawmakers because, in the last legislative session, they increase the DFPS budget over half a billion dollars and sure enough, that extra money is making a difference (Austin American Statesman, 12/5/17). Caseworkers are getting paid more, more caseworkers have been hired, caseloads have come down, turnover has dropped and children now are being seen in a timely manner.
The state Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday will hear from state child welfare officials about how a $12,000 salary boost for caseworkers as well as a multimillion-dollar hiring effort has helped the troubled state agency.
Late last year, the Texas Legislature approved $150 million that gave caseworkers, including child abuse investigators, in Child Protective Services a $12,000 yearly pay increase and allowed the agency to hire 829 employees…
According to data provided by the agency to the American-Statesman last month, more caseworkers are staying on the job and caseloads have dropped after the infusion of money.
After the raises went into effect in January, the percentage of staff leaving Texas Child Protective Services dropped by 5 percentage points to 20.7 percent in the first three months, according to data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees the state’s child welfare agency. Currently, the turnover rate is 18.4 percent, the lowest in at least a decade.
Investigators’ average daily caseloads dropped to 14.5 in the fiscal year that ended in September, an 18 percent decline from the previous year. Family-based caseloads remained at 15, and conservatorship caseloads declined to 28 from 30.
The best practice is for each caseworker to have between 12 and 17 cases.
During the week of Oct. 29, 151 children had not been seen in a timely manner. In September of last year, thousands of children per week were not being seen.
It’s amazing how a little common sense can make a terrible situation better. For years, I argued that Texas needed to budget sufficient money to provide its kids a sensible system of protection and care. The pinchpenny legislature refused until the situation became dire. Now that the money is there, things are improving. You’d think adults could have figured that out long ago, but no. We had to have children die before the legislature took notice and moved.
Well, we had to have children die and a federal judge to become truly incensed. That brings us back to Judge Jack, the lawsuit against DFPS and the two special masters. None of them vanished in a puff of smoke just because the state spent some money to improve matters. The lawsuit is by no means over. The masters have made their report and it urges Jack to issue an order requiring the agency to do far more than it so far has. The parties have been ordered to mediate their differences, but the idea that anything fruitful will come from that looks like wishful thinking.
Plus, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has promised to appeal Jack’s final order pretty much regardless of what it says. So the train wreck I predicted a couple of years ago looks like it may just happen in 2018.
My guess is that Paxton will tell the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that the findings Jack made at the close of evidence two years ago are moot. The problems she outlined have been addressed and the civil rights violations that existed then no longer do, or so the argument will be.
Whether that’s right or wrong, I have no idea, but the legislature potentially has put Jack and the special masters in a bind. If Jack issues orders based on facts that no longer obtain, the appellate court may just strike it down.
We’ll see. Tomorrow I’ll have more to say about what the special masters want Jack to do.
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