Texas Politics

Texas lawmaker: Raise salaries, lower caseloads to help child welfare agency

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland rmallison@star-telegram.com

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland said he wants to be part of the solution when it comes to protecting children in Texas.

That’s why the Bedford Republican released a report about the state’s embattled child welfare agency — called “More Than Reform: The Current State of Child Protective Services” — on Monday, a day other lawmakers took to begin pre-filing bills for next session.

“I am committed to being actively involved in the reform process this legislative session, while being a voice for life, liberty and the rights of the parents and children in the Texas foster care system,” said Stickland, who sat through many CPS-focused hearings as a member of the Texas House County Affairs Committee.

CPS has been under scrutiny for an increase in child abuse and death cases, caseworker turnover, children sleeping in state office buildings, even a court ruling that the foster care system in Texas is “broken.”

Top state officials earlier this year even named new leaders to the state agency that oversees CPS and said improving the system geared to help abused children will be a top priority for the 85th Legislature.

Among proposals in Stickland’s 10-page report that was publicly released Monday:

▪ Improve communications within CPS; create a Human Resources department that explains how expectations and rulings impact their work and cultivate a positive culture within the agency.

▪ Update and modernize the agency’s technology and database; create a career ladder for workers to climb; and replicate nationwide best practices.

▪ Reduce the number of cases per caseworker, raise salaries of caseworkers, reward good work and let caseworkers who are scared for their safety carry concealed handguns if they’d like. “Allowing CHL holding caseworkers to conceal carry would be free to the taxpayers and offer a better solution to personal safety,” Stickland wrote in his report.

▪ Lower certification requirements, increase kinship funding and streamline the adoption process.

▪ Make sure families and parents know up front what their rights are during a CPS investigation and work to protect their parental decisions during the process.

“It is clear that a monetary increase to DFPS funding is required. With that said, throwing money at it has not solved any problems, as the Texas legislature has given more money every time they could,” Stickland wrote in his report.

Lawmakers have traveled around the state, gathering input and hoping to make recommendations to the full Legislature next year on how to improve the system.

Reports show there were 176,868 completed child abuse/neglect investigations in Texas — with 43,848 in the Arlington region, which covers more than a dozen counties including Tarrant, Dallas, Denton and Collin — last year.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley