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Legislature must help stem the flight of caseworkers from Child Protective Services

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

With children's lives at stake, the pressure imposed by heavy workloads at Child Protective Services is pushing many caseworkers out the door. The Legislature must use the time remaining in the 83rd session to help this agency keep caring people on the job.

Every day, child abuse investigators have to deal with disturbing and heart-wrenching situations that most people never encounter. Their decisions can mean life or death for a child at risk, and that's not something to put away in a desk drawer when they go home at night.

Other caseworkers — in family-based services, conservatorship programs, foster and adoption programs, child-care licensing specialists and inspectors — also make a difference every day in the lives of Texas children. It's not a job they do for the money, and in fact, it takes a toll.

Just how challenging are these jobs? Last year 34 percent of all child abuse investigators in Texas resigned, and the turnover rate among other caseworkers was 26.1 percent.

According to the CPS Data Book for fiscal 2012, only 45.1 percent of all caseworkers have been on the job for three years or more, while almost 30 percent have been at the job for less than a year. CPS workers are relatively young, with an average age of 36, and the entry-level salary is less than $37,000 a year.

In February, the commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, former San Antonio Judge John Specia, told a legislative hearing that child abuse investigators are overwhelmed and under paid, and he asked for help.

“It’s real hard to run a railroad with 37 percent turnover,” Specia told the Dallas Morning News, referring to the number of rookie investigators who departed the job last year. Although these workers care about what they're doing, he said, you can't pay them enough to stay if "they’ve got just a completely unreasonable workload."

The Legislature is trying to respond to his plea. While the final budget for 2014-15 is still being worked out, Senate Bill 1 as it currently stands provides just over $2.5 billion in all funds for CPS, an increase of more than 10 percent over the current budget. This amount includes about $105 million for Prevention and Early Intervention programs — a substantial increase over the current budget, but still not enough to really get serious about prevention.

More money will help, but that alone won't relieve the stress caused by heavy caseloads. We can do more, and that's why I am sponsoring bills that would limit the caseloads of investigators and other CPS caseworkers, and enhance training for CPS supervisors. I'm also seeking to create a task force to examine hiring and management practices at the agency.

Specia is working hard to stem the flight of caseworkers from CPS and create a workplace environment that will encourage good, caring people to stay on the job. The Legislature must continue to help him.

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