Oct 28th 2016 | Posted in Public Safety by Priscilla Loebenberg

The fate of children in the care of Child Protective Services (CPS) was hotly debated this week. The Texas Senate Finance Committee met on Wednesday to discuss a CPS reform plan after a recent Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) report revealed nearly 1,000 children were not checked on over the course of six months and case workers did not see 1,800 children within 24 hours of reports of abuse or mistreatment. The currently reported backlog of at-risk children awaiting CPS assistance is 2,844.

“We have to get it right on CPS,” said Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson. “We need to better understand what investments are working and what improvements are needed. We need an action plan that will keep children safe.”

DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman appeared before the committee with a plan to hire 550 new caseworkers and overhaul CPS. His $53.3 million proposal also included hiring special investigators who can find missing children. Whitman followed up his proposal on Thursday with a request for an additional $8.2 million to help raise salaries for CPS employees and increase retention in the high-turnover field.

“This is an extraordinary request, perhaps unprecedented, but this is for our children,” said Whitman.

CPS caseworkers made an average salary of $38,500 in 2014. Special investigators, who typically have law enforcement experience, earned $45,000.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement following the hearing.

“I share Senator Nelson’s frustration with the fact that DFPS has not seen hundreds of these at-risk children over the past few months and I support her demand that DFPS provide us with immediate answers regarding these children,” said Patrick. “These children are our first priority and I am confident that the Senate will take the steps necessary to address this critical issue in the upcoming session.”

Nelson appointed a workgroup to evaluate Whitman’s funding request and recommend a course of action to the Senate Finance Committee. The workgroup will also conduct a review of the agency’s FY 18-19 appropriations request in preparation for the next budget cycle. Sen. Charles Schwertner will chair the workgroup. Nelson also requested daily updates from DFPS on efforts to locate at-risk children.

A federal judge ruled last year that the state’s long-term foster care system violated children’s civil rights and special masters were appointed to help come up with solutions. Legislators expect to receive recommendations from the special masters by Nov. 4.