The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is plagued by high caseloads that prevent staff from spending the time they need with each child, family, or vulnerable adult. As a result, Texans in need of help often fall through the cracks, sometimes with tragic consequences. Unfortunately, details of high profile cases that get media attention vary, but they often share similar patterns of missed opportunities to take action. In December 2015, the ruling from US District Judge Janis Graham Jack focused even more attention on the systemic problems that prevent DFPS from effectively protecting children that are in custody of the State of Texas.
The renewed attention to obstacles that keep DFPS from functioning well come in the wake of numerous reports, studies, and recommendations that have called for lower caseloads and for the stabilization of the workforce. Namely, reports from the Casey Family Program, Texas Adoption Review Committee, Texas Appleseed, the Texas Comptroller, the Sunset Advisory Committee, and the Stephen Group have indicated the need for dramatic improvements. Interim charges and hearings for the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, House County Affairs Committee and House Human Services Committee are an indication of that the need for improvement is recognized by State Leaders.
Despite all of these factors, the FY 18-19 Appropriations Request is fails to adequately address the need to lower caseloads and improve pay. This will result in a continuation of the current caseload crisis and prevent the agency from slowing down skyrocketing turnover. A comparison of targeted caseload levels from the LAR and recommended levels is on the reverse. Additionally, the LAR includes a placeholder for an exceptional item related to paying “high performing staff”. Commissioner Whitman has indicated to the media that improvements in pay will be made through merit raises, not across the board raises, despite the well documented problems with the agency’s punitive work environment and culture of fear.
We ask that elected leaders take action by establishing caseload standards, funding enough positions to make these standards a reality, and funding a real pay raise. Without taking significant steps to lower caseloads and increase retention rates, the same systemic problems will continue to hamper DFPS’s ability to function. Previous Legislatures have significantly increased funding levels for DFPS, however these increases have not kept up with the needs of Texas’ growing population. Also, previous funding increases have not been combined with the establishment of caseload standards.