Walt Disney once said children are our greatest natural resource — a notion that conveys both love for children and the belief that they must be protected.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to display our love and to discuss how we can continue to ensure our children’s safety.
Texas has made important investments in our state programs to protect children. The Legislature has increased funding for Child Protective Services (CPS) every session since 2001, including during the difficult 2011 session.
In fact, funding for CPS is nearly double what it was during the 2002-2003 biennium.
Much of this investment has gone toward increasing the number of caseworkers, therefore decreasing each worker’s caseload. In 2013, the Legislature funded all agency requests for new caseworkers, allowing CPS to hire approximately 800 additional caseworkers over two years.
Investigation caseloads have decreased from an average of 43 in 2005 to fewer than 20 today.
Still, far too many children continue to suffer from abuse and neglect. While last year Texas recorded the lowest number of abuse or neglect-related child deaths since 2000, the number of children who died in foster and kinship care equaled the five previous years combined.
Any child death is unacceptable, but it is particularly egregious when that child is in the state’s care. I have called on the agency to move swiftly to implement a remediation plan.
A large part of our efforts moving forward will be to improve retention rates for caseworkers. While the funding for caseworkers is available, it has been difficult for CPS to hire and keep the staff levels they requested.
CPS should not only continue their current programs such as merit-based and locality pay to provide raises and bonuses to caseworkers that perform well or serve in difficult areas, but also improve morale and workplace culture through increased management training, advancement opportunities and support for employees who are considering leaving.
By improving their outdated case-management system and using today’s technology, CPS can not only reduce the burden on caseworkers but also make it easier to ensure best practices are being followed with each case.
Finally, we must continue to be vigilant with the standards we set for ensuring every child under the state’s care is placed in a safe home.
Minimum standards for private child placing agencies and the screening processes they use for foster care homes will be strengthened, and unannounced visits and contract auditing will be increased.
Children are our most precious resource, and yet one of our most vulnerable populations.
Their care is one of our state’s highest priorities, and we will continue to work hard every day to prevent any child from experiencing the horrors of neglect or abuse.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, represents District 12 portions of Denton and Tarrant counties and chairs the Senate Health and Human Services committee.