November 7, 2016
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. … 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me … 10See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven”.
We’re called to serve as guardian angels to the children on earth. But in far too many sad, incomprehensible cases, we don’t protect, help, rescue or save the little ones of our state.
When we fail in welcoming such children, we do wrong.
It’s taken heartbreaking stories about children who have died because of failures by Child Protective Services to get the attention they deserve.
Our caseworkers and investigators are overwhelmed and hundreds of foster childrenhave been forced to sleep in state offices or hotels over the past several months because CPS can’t find a home for them after removing them from a dangerous situation.
The backlog is caused, in part, by the high turnover of CPS caseworkers and investigators because of low pay and incredibly difficult working conditions.
According to the Dallas Morning News, last year Texas lost more than 1,500 caseworkers. Each one of those people cost the taxpayers $54,000 to train, according to the Department of Family and Protective Services. That’s $83 million squandered because we’ve refused to pay those folks a wage that fits the demands of the job. That’s, well, that’s ridiculous and a waste..
That situation is about to change. I’ve been part of a Senate Finance Committee work group that Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson created to dig into what needs to be done to end the downward spiral at Child Protective Services. That work group, led by Sen. Charles Schwertner, released a plan today to provide frontline CPS workers a $12,000 annual raise, which will bring the average salary to about $54,800 for certain caseworkers.
Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman recommended the salary increase to stem the turnover of caseworkers and help us retain the people we’ve already trained. I’m hopeful this will begin to reverse the tide. And we’re also providing some reinforcements by increasing the number of investigative caseworkers and special investigators that can be hired.
This isn’t the final work. It’s just the start, really. There’s much, much more left to be done, and the work group will continue to examine the needs of the agency, our employees and the children we serve as we move into the legislative session that starts in January. But I’m heartened that we as a state are finally taking concrete steps to live up to our fundamental responsibility to protect the children of Texas.
Last December, a federal judge found that Texas’ foster care system was unconstitutional. During the course of that federal lawsuit, the state unashamedly argued that “foster children do not possess an ‘unlimited’ right ‘to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm.”
Seriously? These are children. Children in the care of the State of Texas. Can we at least try? Shouldn’t our goal be to keep them free from an unreasonable risk of harm? I have to believe that virtually all Texans share that goal.
Texas has continued to fight this ruling and even resisted the court’s appointment of “special masters” to recommend reforms. The special masters issued their findings this past Friday.
If I’m right and we do share the goal of keeping kids free from an unreasonable risk of harm, let’s see the work of the masters not as the work of adversaries or as a punishment for us getting to this unconstitutional place. Instead, let’s embrace it as a road map of expert help.
Let’s look to it as welcome assistance in finding the way out of a broken system and into one that serves vulnerable little ones. Let’s use it to be better guardians.
Truly, no one can be proud of or brag about much of anything we do in state government so long as our children are ignored or left so that they face a risk of harm. There’s no place in political heaven (or otherwise) for any of us who turn our backs on or fail to welcome to safety and basic nurturing the kids we’re responsible for.