74ºF

Child Protective Services undergoing 'transformation'

DFPS Commissioner: Retention a priority to lower caseloads, save lives

SAN ANTONIO – Confronted by persistent high turnover rates among agency caseworkers and alarming rates of child abuse, the commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said Child Protective Services is undergoing a "transformation."

A veteran judge in Bexar County, DFPS Commissioner John Specia Jr. said up to now, mandated reforms through the years have been external.

The agency has had a troubled past with repeated efforts at reform.

"It was the legislature telling the agency what to do and writing a law, ‘You must do this. You must do this. You must do this,'" Specia said.

He said rather than those types of external changes, "We're talking to workers. We're talking to supervisors."

Many face the daunting task of dealing with families often in disarray, whose children are in protective custody or who have been abused or neglected.  

Specia said they are being asked, "What can we do to make your job better? What can we do to make you stay?"

He said the current statewide turnover rate is 25.2 percent, while in Bexar County it is 23.8 percent.

With the agency only two years, investigator Adam Jacobs said co-workers often leave because they can't handle the work.

Jacobs said it will help "being able to have mentors and appropriate training for new workers."

Jose Luis Morales, who is Jacobs' supervisor and has been with the agency five years, said, "Cutting down on the time that we spend in the office and more so increase the time we're in the field with the families are probably the most crucial piece."

Specia said he agrees and it's the kind of feedback he needs.

He said he plans to suggest alternatives to judges, rather than keeping caseworkers tied up in court.

"Why not change the way we manage the docket so we don't have them all sitting there?" said Specia.

Specia said the agency is focused on improving training and hiring the right people.

Being that the lives of vulnerable children are at stake, Specia said he wants to see changes as soon as possible.

According to agency figures, the ratio of abuse and neglect in Bexar County is 12.1 out of every 1,000 children, compared to 9.3 statewide.

Although a CPS spokeswoman said the number of child fatalities fell by half, down to 10 in Bexar County, Specia said caseworkers can help prevent further deaths.    

"We don't need to continually burden workers with more things to do and take time away from them being with the families," said Specia.