AUSTIN, Texas - The overhaul of the Department of Family and Protective Services is underway. The agency tasked with protecting children has delivered their first progress report. Can they make the changes they need to save more children's lives?
The head of that agency, Judge John Specia, has been incredibly candid about what needs to be done to better protect Texas' children. That includes giving us a bigger window to look inside Child Protective Services. When he first presented the one hundred and fifty five page Transformation report, he highlighted some important milestones he wanted to achieve to slash through the red tape. Why? So his workers could spend more time with the families who need help.
"One of the things I'm most proud of is we have reduced investigation policy from about 8 inches down to under an inch," Commissioner Specia says, "That's going to save a lot of worker time."
The agency officially started their "Transformation" back in August. Part of that was to get feedback from staff. There has traditionally been a lot of turnover rate. Caseworkers had said they were overloaded and bogged down with paperwork. Some of them have as many as fifty cases. And an independent report blamed that for the reason higher priority cases had fallen through the cracks. "When I saw the Stephens report and it said they were only spending 26% of the time with families, everything I'm doing is focused on buying time for them," says Specia.
Some other milestones include: rolling out programs that will help case workers more effectively and efficiently asses cases so they can focus on the highest priority children; a state-wide mentoring program; and more recognition and better feedback for staff. Specia says these changes will lead to many positive results, "Our training model, our safety tool, the 24 hour safety tool and our mentoring program. There are a lot of other things in there but I'm very very proud of those."
This month's progress report does show a small drop in overall turnover. Almost twenty-six percent in 2014. So far this year, it's down about two percent.
Last month a legislative committee proposed ninety-seven changes to the agency most of which deal with how the department is governed, "The bill has been filed and basically there was a process with Sunset Commission of looking at those statues and we propose they ask us to go through Sunset and ask us for as many deletions in the Family Code," he says.
There has also been other legislation filed to help better protect kids. One bill proposes to cap case loads for workers at around 15 - another would enforce the child safety alert checklist.