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How Will Texas Find the Resources Needed to Fix Child Protective Services?

Shelby Tauber
Texas Tribune
DFPS Commissioner John Specia appears before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee at the Texas Capitol on April 20, 2016.

The state agency in charge of preventing and investigating child abuse in Texas is in turmoil. Child Protective Services recently lost a slew of investigators in Dallas. A four-year-old child that was on the state’s radar because of abuse was beaten to death. As a result, Governor Greg Abbott announced changes in leadership at the agency, but state lawmakers on Wednesday discussed even more possible changes.

Senate Health and Human Services Chair Charles Schwertner says all the issues that have come up in the past few weeks could at least spur some positive change.

“If it’s possible to glimpse some silver lining in the backdrop of such cruelty, it’s that the attention of the entire state is now squarely focused on what we can do to address these issues and do better for the children of Texas.”

And a lot of that attention went to investigators. John Specia, who is now the outgoing commissioner for the Department of Family and Protective Services, says his job is hard, but, “it’s not anywhere close to as hard as any worker out there doing investigations into child abuse. They are heroes and should be treated as such. We fail them when their caseloads are too high, and we don’t give them the resources to do their job.”

For the most part, there’s a consensus that the state needs to hire more people to do this work. Right now, caseloads per investigator are high. But finding a way to lighten the load could be tricky. Senator Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, says he expects it’s going to be a tough budget session next year.

“But no matter where we find ourselves, and what we have to do to allocate the money, we need to hire more caseworkers. This is a priority that we need to fund. Period. And I see no way around it,” the Senator said.

But Republican state Senator Charles Perry says the state doesn’t need to spend more money. Instead, he says, the agency needs to move funds around so more of it goes to more investigators.

“I want the agency to come here today and leave here today with [an idea of] how they do it with reallocation of funding – not necessarily more funding. We’ve got plenty of money in the system, but a lot of that money stays in Austin.”

And state lawmakers aren’t just worried about how many more people they can get to investigate the growing number of abuse cases. They’re also having a hard time holding on to the people they do have. Besides the strain of large caseloads, Perry and Uresti pointed out investigators get paid very little – less than teachers, for the most part. And that, they say, is why the agency is burning out – and losing – so many investigators. 

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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