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Senate Finance Committee Discusses Options to Address CPS Crisis
On Wednesday, October 26, 2016, the Senate Finance Committee met to discuss the funding needs proposed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to ensure timely contact with children at immediate risk of abuse or neglect, and other proposals to improve child safety. Senator Nelson, the Committee Chair, along with other members of the Committee, provided opening statements and remarks to express their concerns regarding the safety of children who are at-risk; CPS caseworker and investigator issues relating to high caseloads and turnover rates; and inadequate compensation and supervision problems. In addition, members discussed the potential impact of Judge Jack’s order, which is expected in early January, as it relates to the case of M.D. v. Perry.
Julie Lindsey, Analyst at the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), provided testimony regarding funding for child protective services, including the agency’s current $2.8 billion All Funds appropriation for the 2016-17 biennium; the agency’s request for $49.2 million in All Funds for current fiscal year 2017 to hire 450 caseworkers and 100 special investigators; and, their request of $3.4 billion for the upcoming 2018-19 biennium for CPS activities. However, it is important to note that DFPS indicated that the amounts for both the supplemental request and the 2018-19 request are subject to change. The LBB presentation can be found here and addiitional data appears in a separate spreadsheet, which reflects appropriation changes in CPS funding from 2000-2003 through the current 2016-17 biennium.
Amy Tripp of the Sunset Advisory Commission, who managed the 2014 DFPS Sunset Review testified that the Commission, is currently reviewing the implementation of provisions included in Senate Bill 206 by Schwertner which was passed by the 84th Legislature 2015 and included the Sunset recommendations. Ms. Tripp indicated that the review is not complete but will be released in early January and is scheduled to be presented to the Sunset Advisory Commission on January 11, 2017. The most significant findings and recommendations related to caseworker retention and a culture of crisis management. John Stephen, Managing Partner of the Stephen Group, provided testimony on the consulting group’s findings which were consistent with the Sunset Advisory Commission. Mr. Stephen pointed out several recommendations which had not been implemented –– tracking the amount of time a CPS worker spends with the child’s family; automation enhancements; and family–based services.
During the nearly 5 hour hearing, members focused on several significant issues:
- Kinship Care. Would an increased investment in this alternative result in better outcomes for at–risk children?
- Increased compensation to caseworkers. The average monthly take–home salary of $2,000 for caseworkers is less than salaries for police officers and teachers and contributes to the high turnover rates. The Committee expressed concern that a request had not been brought forward by the agency to increase salaries immediately. Watch Sen. Nelson discuss agency funding with the commissioner, and watch Sen. Watson discuss a pilot project in Midland.
- Turnover rates for caseworkers. Stressful work conditions are resulting in significant turnover rates in CPS workers (26%) as compared to 15% to 16% for the rest of the state employee population. Training a new caseworker costs $54,000 and a significant number of caseworkers quit after only two (2) years on the job. Watch Sen. West discuss the turnover rate with the commissioner.
- Punitive Supervision. There was concern regarding a work environment where employees expressed concern regarding retaliation and other negative issues relating to supervision. The agency responded that they will soon implement the new model for supervisor training.
- Letter from Representative Donna Howard. It is suggested that $60 million in existing funds be appropriated to the agency to address the FY 2017 supplemental need. However, Senator Nelson believes that the agency’s existing transferability authority will be sufficient until a supplemental bill can be passed in FY 2017. Read Rep. Howard's letter.
- Statewide, 2,844 children involved in foster care have not been seen by CPS. Included in this amount is 511 children who are classified as Priority 1 and are at the highest risk for abuse and maltreatment. Watch Sen. Whitmire discuss high-risk children with John Stephen, and watch Sen. Schwertner discuss special investigators with the commissioner.
- Issuance of Judge Jack’s report on foster care in January. Encouraged the agency to be proactive in addressing issues to show good faith effort to improve the foster care system. Watch Sen. Watson discuss the ruling with John Stephen. Watch Sen. Watson discuss the need for a holistic solution to address CPS needs and the agency's implementation plan with the commissioner.
Senator Nelson appointed a Workgroup to review the DFPS revised plan that is required to be submitted on Thursday, October 27, and make recommendations to address the current crisis and determine an appropriate level of funding for the FY 2017 supplemental bill and the upcoming 2018-19 biennium that will protect children. The Workgroup members are:
- Senator Schwertner, Chair
- Senator Whitmire
- Senator Watson
- Senator Kolkhorst
- Senator Birdwell
The Chair indicated that the recommendations are needed as soon as possible.