Following a staggering increase in the number of children who are considered to be in immediate danger of physical or sexual abuse who are not being contacted by Child Protective Services in a timely manner due to high caseloads and unbearable turnover, Senator Uresti called for a special session of the legislature to tackle the issue. In response, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House called for DFPS Executive Director Hank Whitman to develop a plan to ensure all reports of abuse are investigated timely in accordance with state law.
To receive the plan, finance Chairwomen Jane Nelson called a special meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on October 26th. The committee discussed the Department of Family and Protective Services current funding, growth of employees, and legislative appropriations request for the next biennium. The committee received an update from The Stephen Group on reforms initiated in the CPS system as part of the CPS transformation process.
Lastly, the Committee analyzed Commissioner Whitman’s plan to hire 550 additional caseworkers and investigators in an attempt to stabilize the workforce. Senator Uresti made the point that with a 46% turnover rate in the first year, and given that the agency spends $53,000 to train a caseworker, hiring the requested employees will cost the state $35 Million. Senator Uresti believes we need to pay starting caseworkers more than the current $35,000 per year to decrease turnover.
Many Senators on the Finance Committee also made the case that starting salaries are inadequate. Chairwomen Nelson asked Commissioner Whitman to revise his plan to include a proposed salary increase, and to submit that report the next business day. In response, Commissioner Whitman submitted a plan to increase caseworker and investigator salaries by $12,000 per year.
Senator Uresti, members of the Finance Committee and a newly created subcommittee are looking into the proposals, and could look to take action quickly.