In his recent State of the State Address, Gov. Greg Abbott declared Child Protective Services reform as his first emergency item this legislative session. He grimly reminded lawmakers that “over one hundred children died in CPS care last year”.

CPS first came under scrutiny in November when federal court-appointed special masters submitted a report recommending 56 ways in which CPS could improve – calling the system “broken.” Of the many issues identified, understaffing and the quality of case management stood out as top priorities.

Though Federal Judge Janis Jack, who initiated the court order, suggested additional federal oversight, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton felt the federal recommendations were too broad and that the issues were better addressed at the state level.

Following the report, the Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman requested $150 million in emergency funding from the Senate Finance Committee. The new funds would allow for the hiring of 829 new caseworkers and give a $12,000 raise to existing ones in an effort to limit the number of caseloads on CPS workers.

Soon after Abbott’s call to action, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee called a hearing on legislation that would connect foster care children with their respective communities by changing the toxic culture at CPS, creating quality outcomes and allowing for quick responsiveness in cases.

Currently, CPS uses a redesign program that provides foster care services that rely on single contractors, which help place children in homes and provide them with continuum services. Senate Bill 11, structured after the state’s foster care redesign, expands the responsibility of single-source contractors by allowing them to offer family preservation services and independently manage cases.

In 2015, 16.8 percent of children ended up back in the foster care system within a year of reunification – a statistic likely resulting from mismanagement and case overload.

As Whitman said during the hearing, “…there is too much emphasis on getting from one person to another.” By allowing independent contractors to assume case responsibility, more attention can be given to each individual child and could ultimately deter CPS from recycling kids through the system due to the lack of quality casework.

ACH Child and Family Services was the first non-profit to contract with the state and when testifying on SB 11, CEO Wayne Carson claimed, “For every dollar invested into ACH, Texas would benefit $3.44.” This contract served as an example of what the bill would do.

Opponents of the bill fear that privatizing case management would leave some caseworkers jobless. However, SB11 would give current caseworkers preferential hiring. Other concerns include the oversight of legal aspects such as court reports, permanency recommendations, and accountability.

Brandon Logan, Director of the Center of Families and Children at the Texas Public Policy Foundation described SB11 as “triaging a patient that is already terminal.”

While CPS is under the microscope this session, legislators should focus on eliminating unneeded bureaucracy within the agency, protecting parental rights, and improving accountability.

Ashley Davis-Nelson

Ashley Davis-Nelson is the Development Associate for Empower Texans. Ashley is a native Houstonian, and an alumna of University of Houston, where she studied Hospitality. While at UH, she participated in fundraising for Zeta Tau Alpha’s philanthropy, Breast Cancer Awareness and Education, served as Vice President for College Republicans, and was a Senator in Student Government Association.