Finally, there’s movement on the crisis at Child Protective Services, which has been unable to conduct timely investigations into more than 2,000 Texas children reported as in danger of neglect or abuse.
From all appearances, it wasn’t the three men at the top of the Texas political ladder — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus — who got action.
It was state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the powerful chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.
At a hearing Wednesday, Nelson and several committee members sunk their spurs deep into the sides of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman, a recent Abbott appointee.
Committee members questioned Whitman about the annual attrition rate among CPS caseworkers — 57 percent in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — and his acknowledgment that caseworker pay is too low.
Starting pay for the college-educated caseworkers is just under $35,000 a year.
Yet a $53.3 million crisis action plan submitted by Whitman did not include raises.
Nelson fumed. Keep in mind that, as head of the finance committee, she’s the Senate’s chief budget writer. No agency head wants Nelson to be unhappy.
“Are you revising your plan?” she asked Whitman.
“I will,” he said.
“Good. You’ve got until tomorrow,” she said.
“I’m dead serious,” she added later. She wanted revisions by the end of the day Thursday, even “if it takes working through the night.”
When Abbott, Patrick and Straus told Whitman earlier this month they wanted him to prepare turnaround plans, they gave him a week to think about it.
Whitman sent Nelson a detailed letter late Thursday asking for $1,000-a-month raises for front-line CPS caseworkers, investigators and supervisors.
That’s what the Legislature authorized in 2013 for CPS personnel in the Odessa area, where many workers were leaving for jobs in the booming Permian Basin oil patch.
Annual turnover there, which previously hit 42.7 percent, dropped to 21.5 percent.
As an important immediate step to resolve the current crisis, Whitman wrote that Department of Public Safety agents have been recruited to help find those 2,000-plus endangered children as yet unseen by CPS.