Serving the Church in Texas

Bishops support full funding of Texas’ DFPS

Michael Barba

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops support fully funding DFPS, especially programs pertaining to aging out, kinship care, prevention and intervention, and the shift to a regional community-based model. To inform this conversation, I’ll walk through two persistent problems facing the agency.

Caseload

In 1996, the Governor’s Committee to Promote Adoption told DFPS that it needed to reduce primary conservatorship caseworkers (CVS) caseloads.
In 2004, the Texas Comptroller issued the Forgotten Children report, finding that DFPS had several serious problems, including “heavy caseloads and high caseworker turnover that prevented the agency from performing required visits with foster children.” That report prompted the 79th Texas Legislature to reform DFPS. Legislators provided CPS with $250 million in additional funding, but these funds were aimed primarily at the issue of unmanageable investigation (INV) caseworker caseloads.
This allowed CPS to hire more than 3,200 INV caseworkers, supervisors, and staff, and improve INV caseworker training. However, this didn’t address CVS caseworker caseloads. The additional INV caseworkers resulted in CPS removing far more children from their homes and placing them into State custody—from 13,431 children in 2004 to 17,547 children in 2006. This was a 31% increase. As an unintended consequence, this exacerbated the already high CVS caseworker caseloads. The problem simply got worse.
As a result, CVS caseworkers routinely handled 30 cases, though it was common to be assigned 40-plus cases. In contrast, national standards call for between 15 and 17 cases per worker.
In 2010, DFPS acknowledged before the Texas Legislature that it the needed to reduce caseloads for its CPS caseworkers. DFPS stated that decreasing caseloads would allow caseworkers to make regular, meaningful contact with children in the substitute care system and ensure the safety and well-being of those children until the permanency goal is reached.
In its Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013, DFPS acknowledged that the caseload issue was still ongoing, stating, “High caseloads cause quality casework to suffer, thus putting children in our system further at risk of harm.” DFPS also noted that foster child “safety is greatly improved with lower caseloads that allow workers to spend more time on each case.” Despite DFPS’s knowledge that it needed to reduce caseloads, between 2009 and 2013, caseloads only increased.

In its LAR for Fiscals Years 2014 and 2015, DFPS requested additional funding from the Legislature to lower caseloads to 2009 levels. DFPS acknowledged that allowing caseloads to go any higher would result in significant safety issues.
However, in 2014, CVS caseworkers in many counties averaged over 40 stages,3 with the highest averaging 88. Former caseworkers testified that a 40-60 stage caseload is typical and unmanageable. 2004 was the last time DFPS conducted a work measurement study to determine what a manageable caseload is.

Turnover

In its LAR for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015, DFPS noted that “entry level direct delivery positions experience the highest rate of turnover within the agency. Protective services is a stressful job, made even more so when caseloads are high. About 29 percent of new caseworkers in the CPS program leave within the first year.”

To mitigate this problem, DFPS requested additional funding to “incentivize staff to remain in their job long enough to become more competent, make better decisions, and provide the staff coverage necessary to adequately protect the children served by DFPS.”
In its LAR for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017, DFPS admitted that “retention and turnover issues have impacted the ability of CPS to achieve full staffing during FY 2014.” In 2014, The Stephen Group noted that the issue of turnover is “a well-known concern across CPS.” Also in 2014, the Sunset Commission found that the “Legislature and DFPS have long been concerned with reducing chronically high caseworker turnover, which results in a number of problems that directly affect the agency’s ability to meet its mission of protecting children.” Yet, “CPS turnover remains significantly higher than the state agency average.”

Conclusion

DFPS must be fully and prudently funded, otherwise improvements in one part of the system will be nullified by failures in other parts. Over the years, the legislature has been very supportive of CPS’ requests.5 The Catholic Bishops of Texas ask that you continue this support by fully funding the agency as you work on reforming the system through House Bills 4, 5, and 6.

 

Notes

  1. See Stukenberg v Abbott at 187-193 for a detailed review of caseload and turnover.
  2. The DFPS reforms were established by 79RS SB6.
  3. Texas calculates caseloads in terms of “stages,” each of which represents an aspect of the work that needs to be done with a child or her family, rather than by individual children. DFPS stages could include Intake, Investigation, Family Preservation, Child Substitute Care (relating to children removed from the home), Family Substitute Care (a stage created for families when a child has been removed from the home), Foster and Adoptive Home Development, Kinship, and Adoption. One child, then, could represent several stages simultaneously. DFPS’s way of counting caseloads is unique to Texas. In Stukenberg v Abbott, the Court discovered that experts called by both Defendants and Plaintiffs could barely understand or explain the stage-counting approach.
  4. As high as caseworker turnover is, the reported turnover rate is understated. In an article from 2009, light was shed upon the way in which DFPS calculates turnover. In its turnover rate, DFPS counts how many full time, regular employees left the agency. But turnover should include every time caseworkers leave their position. From the view of the child or family, the critical fact isn’t that the caseworker has left them, not left the agency. Based on DFPS-provided data, from 2006 to 2008, CPS’s total workforce turnover rates were understated by between 5% and 11% per year (accounting only for promotions). Additionally, from 2006 to 2008, CPS workforce turnover, specifically for CVS workers, was further understated by between approximately 10% and 14% per year (accounting for promotions as well as for CVS caseworker transfers into other CPS units). By December 2015, there was no evidence that DFPS has changed its method for calculating turnover.
  5. According to former DFPS Commissioner John Specia, “when the State had money, DFPS got substantial amounts of it. When the State didn’t have money, DFPS had fewer cuts than other people did.” Stukenberg v Abbott at 244.