A group of Child Protective Services caseworkers are calling for state officials to drop their appeal of a federal judge's order to reform the troubled foster care system.
"Our ability to do our job is undercut by the unmanageable workloads that we are saddled with," Arlington-based CPS worker Susan Rial said at a press conference outside the Capitol Wednesday, the Texas Tribune reported.
Those workloads, which contribute to a 26.7% turnover rate for primary caseworkers, were discussed at length in U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack's December ruling that outlined how the Department of Family and Protective Services has failed to adequately care for thousands of foster children.
The state has appealed largely on technical grounds, claiming that the complaint, filed in 2011 by NYC-based advocacy group Children's Rights, should never have been allowed to proceed as a class-action suit.
But, as the Trib reported, Texas State Employees Union President Judy Lugo claimed, "While the appeals process drags on, vulnerable Texas kids will continue to fall through the cracks."
As Jack noted in her ruling, caseworkers spend only 26 percent of their time with the children they're responsible for; the bulk of their job is paperwork. There is no cap to the number of cases that can be dumped on them; and, confusingly, workloads aren't calculated by the number of children, but by "stages" — a vague method that no one from DFPS was able to adequately explain at trial.
Jack's ruling also cited previous studies that described what caseworkers call an oppressive, fear-based office culture. She wrote that a 2013 State Auditor's report found that "the work environment at CPS is 'unsupportive and punitive,' and that CPS staff do not 'feel safe to raise concerns or make complaints, fearing retaliation or punishment.'"
A 2014 report by the Texas Sunset Commission found the same, saying that CPS employees interviewed for the report "described management practices at CPS as 'unfair, unsupportive, bullying, unreasonable, and fear-driven.' Many CPS caseworkers and managers even stated that they were concerned about possible retaliation for their cooperation with the Sunset review."
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It's no wonder then, as Jack wrote, that "one out of every six new caseworkers leaves CPS within six months."
Jack also summarized the testimony of CPS Assistant Commissioner Lisa Black, who "admitted that turnover causes delayed investigations" and "significant costs to the State in terms of recruiting, training, and lost productivity."
As part of the reform, Jack stated that DFPS must track caseloads on a "child-only basis," and must also conduct a study to come up with a number that is manageable.
Considering Texas is vehemently contesting much of Jack's ruling and the court-ordered reforms to the foster care system, there's no telling how or if state officials will take the caseworkers' concerns into account.