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Isabella Brooke Knightly and Austin Gamez-Knightly

Isabella Brooke Knightly and Austin Gamez-Knightly
In Memory of my Loving Husband, William F. Knightly Jr. Murdered by ILLEGAL Palliative Care at a Nashua, NH Hospital

Thursday, May 27, 2010

CPS system strained by complaints, 2009 hiring freeze

CPS system strained by complaints, 2009 hiring freeze

By Corrie MacLaggan
Published: 9:21 p.m. Monday, May 24, 2010

Texas child welfare workers are struggling to respond to a spike in abuse and neglect reports that's overlapping with the effects of a hiring freeze, according to a key state official.

"Staff are tired," said Audrey Deckinga , assistant commissioner for Child Protective Services at the Department of Family and Protective Services . "Our system is a little bit stressed."

Deckinga's remarks came at a Central Texas Council of Child Protection Boards awards ceremony last week in Salado.

So far this year, CPS has received an average of 19,889 referrals per month. That's compared with 17,778 in 2009, a figure that was similar to the 2008 number.

The increased workload follows a series of high-profile child deaths, Deckinga said.

In 2009, 280 Texas children died because of abuse or neglect, including five in Travis County, state officials said. That is an increase from 213 deaths the previous year.

"When we have child deaths ... it's kind of a wake-up call for the communities," Deckinga said. "And so, we see that what happens is we start getting more referrals."

Meanwhile, the agency is working to train workers after a hiring freeze that lasted for several months last year. CPS, which has about 8,600 employees, typically hires ahead of projected vacancies. But when a higher number of workers held onto their jobs because of the economic downturn, the agency reached its legislative-mandated maximum number of employees and had to stop hiring, state officials said.

"It becomes really difficult then to go ahead and gear back up and to get people through our three-month basic skills development," Deckinga said. "People in the field ... really feel it while we wait for new workers to get out of (training) and to be able to assume some of the workload that

they shoulder."

The economic downturn has also contributed to the increased number of referrals, said Jane Burstain , a senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans. Most CPS cases are neglect cases — 75 percent of confirmed allegations in 2009 were for neglect — and poverty is highly related to such cases, she said.

As referrals have increased, so have investigations and the number of children in foster care. Investigative caseworkers are handling about 28 cases at a time, compared with 21 to 22 cases at a time in the past two years.

An average of 27,321 children per month this year have been in out-of-home care, which includes foster care and relative care. That's compared with a monthly average of 26,949 in 2009.

Burstain said the system is "reaching a critical mass" and needs more workers and more resources for services for families, such as subsidized day care. CPS was largely unaffected by the 5 percent cuts that state agencies were required to make from their current budgets.

"There's only so much (caseworkers) can handle," Burstain said. "If they can't investigate fast enough, or they don't have the capacity once they determine that a case needs ongoing supervision, what that means is that more kids are going to get hurt and end up dead."

cmaclaggan@statesman.com; 445-3548


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