August 25, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The continuing fiasco that is the State of Texas’ attempt to manage its system of child protection including foster care continues to amaze. It’s hard to imagine how the situation could be worse (unless we remember the trials and tribulations of Arizona’s CPS), but the Lone Star State seems equal to the task. Hey, we’re a can-do sort of state. This quite fine article brings us up to date (Dallas Morning News, 8//14).
I’ve attempted to chronicle the overwhelming dysfunction of Texas’ Child Protective Services and the agency that oversees it, the Department of Family and Protective Services, but it’s a daunting chore. There’s so much wrong, it’s hard to keep up. Just a couple of months ago I reported on the latest analysis of the agency’s many ills that described an organization that’s in utter disarray. Caseworkers don’t know the law and, often as not neither do their supervisors and, in any event, there are too few of them to attend to the needs of children at risk of harm. They’re paid too little and asked to do too much, each one shouldering a caseload that’s upwards of twice the industry standard. If that’s not bad enough, those same caseworkers spend close to none of their time actually dealing with parents and children. About 75% of their time is spent in administrative duties, much of it pounding out reports.
This of course is the same agency that, in the not distant past, has seen children being killed in foster homes at an alarming rate. One group home south of Houston racked up six children killed by home personnel in as many years before someone finally noticed and shut the place down.
Then there’s Taylor County CPS that’s had a special prosecutor appointed by a local judge to investigate allegations of cover ups by area supervisors in the death of Tamryn Klapheke at the hands of her mother who was known by CPS to be neglectful and a danger to her kids.
With all that going on, two separate commissioners have resigned the post in the last two years. The most recent lamb to the slaughter is former family court judge John Specia who seems, to put it mildly, overmatched in his job. Not that his job is easy, mind you. But with an agency as confused and incompetent as his, inquiring minds wonder who would be willing to take on such a job. Talent with better alternatives don’t apply for, much less accept the position.
And Specia, a former San Antonio family court judge, has other big worries: Last year, seven children in traditional foster homes died from abuse and neglect, up from two the previous year. Earlier this month, key GOP lawmakers embraced a consultant’s report that slams CPS administrators for hindering rather than helping front-line workers. Workers spend just 26 percent of their time with kids and families, the report said.
That spike in children’s deaths may be attributable in part to an attempt to privatize the vetting of foster parents. The effort hasn’t gone well amid allegations of corner-cutting on the part of one private agency.
The latest shocker is that one private provider, Providence Service Corp. of Texas, has quit on the job, voiding its $150 million contract with the state. Providence was supposed to take over case management in a 60-county area in the western part of the state. But, two years into the contract, the private corporation pulled out citing massive financial losses and a state bureaucracy that’s trying to micromanage the supposedly privatized effort.
This comes on the heels of a similar effort in South Texas that foundered in 2006.
So, with two abject failures to go on and a rising body count statewide, what does Specia do? He presses ahead with the roll-out of the privatization effort to yet a new private contractor in a new location, this time Tarrant County (Fort Worth) and environs.
The whole point of privatization raises perhaps the most important issue confronting child protective efforts everywhere – money. Privatizing certain services is supposed to save the state money, but there’s no indication it’s worked. Providence tried and, within two years was running some $3 million in the red. Exactly like CPS, its public counterpart, it tried to do too much with too little. Unlike CPS, Providence can walk off the job, and that’s just what it’s done, leaving the state agency to pick up the pieces.
But it’s that desire on the part of the state Legislature to save money in the child protection effort that’s the root of the problem. We all want agencies to function as efficiently as possible, but the pinch-penny legislature fails to grasp the notion that the job of CPS caseworker is low-paying, highly stressful and comes with a caseload that’s far too large to handle competently. The unsurprising result is that caseworkers tend to quit as soon as they can find better jobs. That produces an astonishing turnover in CPS in the 25% - 30% range per annum.
The result is an agency with little institutional memory, and caseworkers with too much to do for too little pay. With all that as a given, it’s no surprise that children die and CPS employees cover up their own wrongdoing.
Proper funding could mean proper training, proper pay, proper caseloads, retained staff, greater experience on the part of caseworkers and supervisors, less stress, the ability to do the job assigned them, i.e. protect children from harm, etc. Underfunding results in the status quo that’s too dysfunctional and scandal-ridden to tolerate. Unfortunately, the only ones who seem willing to tolerate it are members of the Legislature who consistently place the state budget ahead of children’s welfare.
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