Texas children under Child Protective Services care still in jeopardy

In October, Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joined forces to raise alarm about the state of Child Protective Services in Texas.

The agency, which serves children embroiled within the foster care system, announced in October that more than 1,000 children at suspected risk of abuse, named priority one, were not checked on in a six month period.

During a Monday hearing with the Senate Finance Committee, Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman said little has since changed, with the attrition rate of case workers and number of children going unchecked still fairly consistent with October numbers.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, expressed anger on the matter, echoing his emotions from last fall.

"Why shouldn't we be just as outraged today as we were [in October]?" Whitmire said.

The commissioner addressed several key problems that continue to loom in wake of quickly approaching funding deadlines, which start May 1.

On May 1, CPS caseworkers are expected to have seen 90 percent of children younger than 6 years old within 24 hours. A month after, on June 1, CPS must have completed training for supervisors. By July 9, the agency is expected to have reduced case loads for individual case workers to between 14 to 17 cases.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, pointed out this July deadline would be a cut roughly in half the current case loads per worker.

To do this, CPS has goals to hire and retain more workers. In December, the agency hired 128 new employees. In January, CPS hired 286. In these two months, 99 of the total 414 hires were considered of critical need.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pointed out that CPS estimates each case worker's training to cost roughly $54,000. Whitman said case workers stay for one and a half years, on average.

Whitman also said each day, CPS loses approximately four case workers. Doing the math, West calculated the agency loses about $44 million in training costs annually.

The Senate Finance Committee also addressed the still high number of priority one children not being checked on each day.

Whitman said roughly 400 to 450 children go unchecked on daily.

"On every given day, every time we find those individual children, new ones come in," Whitman said.

He also cited a problem of not being able to find a large portion of priority one children for one reason or another—including domestic circumstances, homelessness and human trafficking.

Whitman said these numbers should see improvement "by May or June."

Chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, called this estimate unacceptable, especially in reaction to the agency's upcoming goals.

"If you don't meet those benchmarks, then no money," she said.

The senators on the committee as a whole seemed wary of devoting more funding to Child Protective Services after the agency's last bout of appropriations yielded such disappointing results.

Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said he has to expect greater results than he has already seen.

"We've put a lot of money into something and not seen improvement," he said.

In November, the legislature approved about $150 million for CPS in emergency funding. This money would help supplement agency improvements such as a $12,000 pay raise for existing caseworkers and funds to hire 829 new ones.

Look here for some of our past coverage of legislative efforts to remedy problems within CPS.