Highly skilled and trained caseworkers are leaving Child Protective Services at an alarming rate, and Texas’ vulnerable children are suffering as a result.
Many caseworkers, particularly those in Texas’ largest cities, are leaving because they are overworked and underpaid. In Dallas County, Child Protective Services has to bring in workers from other areas of Texas because child-abuse investigators in the county are quitting at an unsustainable pace, that at one point reached an annual rate of 57%, according to the Dallas Morning-News.
Caseworkers serve on the front lines in the fight to keep our most vulnerable children safe from what sometimes is pure evil.
We ask our caseworkers to routinely investigate claims of child abuse and neglect, sometimes experiencing horrific conditions, to engage with families who often resent their very presence. Their job requires them to manage high caseloads with long hours extending into the night and weekends. We ask them to serve as the State’s eyes and ears while always looking out for the best interest of the child as they communicate with medical professionals, school officials, counselors, and other professionals, sort through conflicting information, and ultimately testify in court.
As it stands now, caseworkers must be creative in their personal lives to make ends meet on a salary that starts in the low $30,000s.
They provide a tremendous service and should be compensated justly.
This is a solution I look forward to championing in the 85th Legislative Session starting in January. But Texas should read the writing on the wall, and react accordingly. We are losing our institutional knowledge, our most experienced caseworkers, and the lives of too many children.
In the interim, in an attempt to attract more applicants, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) has downgraded the hiring standards for starting caseworkers, from a bachelor’s degree to an associate’s degree. The move is intended to broaden and diversify the applicant pool by attracting people with an associate’s degree and two years of real-world, relevant experience.
Watering down the applicant pool is not the answer. Due to low salaries, Texas is already struggling to attract top notch applicants. These applicants are not willing to give a career with CPS serious consideration because of low pay. The policy change now makes Texas the only state to not require a bachelor’s degree for such positions.
As I wrote to the DFPS commissioner recently, investigators are expected to read, comprehend and adhere to complex legal processes, and must quickly assess current and potential risk environments under immense pressure and with constant internal and external scrutiny. They are required to write reports, testify in court, and evaluate the multifaceted causes of child maltreatment.
Other professionals who work directly with kids — teachers, counselors, etc. — are required to have completed a bachelor’s degree. The credentials of caseworkers are especially crucial because the stakes are so high — a child’s wellbeing or life is often in danger.
A caseworker of the caliber we need to be hiring, who has earned a four-year degree, will consider a career with Child Protective Services if they are offered a fair starting wage that is livable in our larger cities.
Downgrading hiring standards will mean that additional training, resources, and mentoring is required to bring starting caseworkers up to speed. Eventually, I’m afraid that lowering hiring standards could exacerbate the turnover at the agency by creating an exodus of current caseworkers who feel undervalued.
We have a legal and moral obligation to take care of our children.
We’re all trying to do the right thing. Let’s do it smartly, and together, by strengthening the system — not weakening it.
Top image: Texas Senator Carlos Uresti (D19) gives opening remarks at a press conference kicking off National Child Abuse Prevention Month on April 1. Photo by Scott Ball.