HOUSTON – As lawmakers move forward with plans to overhaul Child Protective Services, child advocates question whether measures go far enough to truly right an embattled system.
Legislators' pledge to fix our state’s child welfare system includes an infusion of cash and a list of proposed laws.
Last November, Channel 2 Investigates showed you how lawmakers began scrambling to overhaul a system plagued by missteps, high staff turnover, crippling caseloads and low morale. At the end of 2016, lawmakers gave CPS an emergency infusion of $142 million to hire more than 800 investigators and give employees a $12,000 raise.
In order to receive the extra funds, CPS was required to provide the Legislative Budget Board with weekly progress reports.
Children in the greatest danger of being abused or neglected are considered Priority 1 cases. State law requires CPS to have face-to-face meetings with these children within 24 hours of a getting a call.
The latest progress report obtained by KPRC Channel 2 News shows that CPS still misses that mark nearly 15 percent of the time. In our area, that number is around 30 percent.
“Something's not working,” Dr. Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk, said. “Children are falling through the cracks.”
“Is it a system that is broken, or is it a system that doesn't have the resources it needs to meet the demand?” asked Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
“It's absolutely a system that (has) been underfunded,” Sanborn said.
Following the emergency funding, lawmakers filed several bills to overhaul CPS. House Bill 5 would make the Department of Family and Protective Services, which houses CPS, a separate agency, answering directly to Gov. Greg Abbott. Currently, DFPS is under the umbrella of the State Department of Health and Human Services.
“You want the governor to pay attention to this stuff, because this is something that needs a lot of attention,” Sanborn said.
House Bill 4 would increase payments for certain families that agree to take care of abused and neglected children who are their relatives. Legislators hope the increased payments will remove some of the financial barriers to so-called “kinship” care. Legislators argue children placed with family tend to have better long-term outcomes than those in foster care.
There is also Senate Bill 11, which would essentially privatize certain parts of CPS' casework by having the agency partner with local nonprofit organizations. House Bill 6 is similar to Senate Bill 11.
“These are good initiatives, but they're not necessarily solutions,” Sanborn said.
Sanborn said these measures will need to be constantly evaluated and updated to truly be effective. He added that a one-time infusion of cash will only temporarily ease CPS' burden. The resources have to be constant to have a lasting impact.
“We have a history in this state of saying we care about our children, and then we throw a little bit of money, especially when it's in the news, to say we're taking care of this, and then we move on,” Sanborn said.
All of these bills have passed their respective chambers but have not gone to full votes to become law. It is likely that will happen since the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker have said fixing CPS is a top priority this legislative session.