CENTRAL TEXAS - In October, Child Protective Services caseworkers didn’t see 2,844 children in Texas, 511 of those were at the highest risk of abuse or neglect.
That’s according to Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman, who said the agency is transparent, and has areas they need to work on.
Those problems are one of the reasons the Senate Finance Committee met with Whitman, and other DFPS officials Wednesday.
Many of the senators wanted to know where the money allocated for Child Protective Services is going.
“We can’t keep giving money to something that doesn’t work,” said Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson.
According to the Legislative Budget Board, the amount of money allocated to CPS in the past 15 years has doubled.
In 2002-2003 it was $1.2 billion, in 2016-2017 it was $2.8 billion.
In a budget proposal, Whitman is asking for 829 more employees, 450 of those would be additional case workers, and 100 of those special investigators.
He said they would disperse that staff throughout the state in the regions with the highest need, but Whitman said it will take time.
“Let’s put this in proper perspective, this is an agency that’s been in turmoil a long time, five and half months my team has come in outlined in a request where our problems are at, this is what we need to do,” said Whitman.
But before the senate committee approves the new positions, they want DFPS to look at the high turnover rate of CPS case workers.
According to DFPS, it costs about $54,000 to train a CPS case worker. It’s money the lawmakers said they don’t want to spend if the case worker will leave within a year.
“We will have to spend money to save money,” said Senator Kel Seliger.
Senator Carlos Uresti said “we can’t hire our way out of this.”
He wants the commissioner to look at raising the salaries of case workers, which is about $35,000 dollars.
Senators said the case workers need to make a living wage, and the state needs to pay them for the stress that comes with the job.
“They’re willing to go ahead and go into that area, let’s do it now, otherwise we’ll have to wait until September of next year, I’m going to keep losing people,” said Commissioner Whitman.
“There’s no one on that committee that doesn’t want to do right by the children who need the help of the state of Texas,” said Senator Charles Schwertner. “And we need to make sure that we have not just the right amount of funding which is what this work group will be studying, but also the right culture, environment and leadership within DFPS.”
Amy Tripp, who testified on behalf of the Texas Sunset Commission, said a survey of CPS employees showed that “work environment needs to be improved.” The survey showed that they felt it was an unsupportive culture, from favoritism to threats.
"A lot of us have been working for years, and I don't have all the answers, but I just know if children continue to be hurt then we have work to do,” said Nelson.
“This is as critical a situation I’ve seen in 44 years,” said Senator John Whitmire.
Due to the high number of children who CPS case workers aren’t able to see, Senator Whitmire asked DFPS why they aren’t using law enforcement, like the Department of Public Safety to find them.
Whitman said he’ll call DPS Wednesday night and said “we’ll definitely start as soon as possible.”
As for the 511 high risk children who case workers didn’t see in October, Whitman said he wants to find them within a week.
“Certainly there’s need for immediate action, children that have been deemed priority one risk for high chance of immediate harm or abuse, those children need to be found,” said Schwertner.
Whitman said they do already have new models of investigating they are working to implement.
Those include a “team” approach, two case workers collaborating to find a child.
He also said Special Investigators are mentoring case workers on things like interviewing skills, and they’re modifying investigator schedules to “better meet a 7 day demand.”
Whitman adds that the special investigators will have an “active role in child sex trafficking,” which he said is a big problem.
Senator Royce West told the committee he wants to know from DFPS which programs are working, like foster care or kinship, and which ones are not.
Nelson said they want to be clear, they appreciate the work CPS case workers do.
Whitman is supposed to finish the budget request and CPS plan by Thursday.
Nelson assigned a group of senators to review Whitman’s plan. She asked them to look at every penny given to CPS, and see if it’s needed. Senator Schwertner will head up the Senate work group.
(© 2016 KVUE)