Carrying the Caseload

Texas Child Advocates are hopeful lawmakers' actions in the last legislative session, to overhaul the CPS system, may begin to turn those alarming numbers around.

Several bills were considered to deal with the crisis, so we decided to see what progress has been made and what life is like for a CPS investigator on the street, the one knocking on the doors, no matter what the call.

"Wherever we are needed, we go regardless of where the place is," CPS Investigator Myranda Garcia said.

The phone is already ringing as Myranda Garcia climbs into her mobile office, and like most CPS investigators, she spends a lot of time behind the wheel.

Garcia: "We get to know the families, know what their needs are, see if there are any risks or safety issues and then we address them and work from there to make sure the kiddos are safe."

Garcia says sometimes caseworkers and investigators walk in knowing little or nothing about the circumstances, other than that a child could be at risk.

Investigators are on call  24/7, doing a  job where time is of the essence.

Garcia: "Things can change very fast, so we have to be on our toes and ready to go at any time for whatever new changes are coming to that family."

Garcia says caseloads vary depending on the specifics of individual cases.

Some investigations are routine and can be closed in a day, others take weeks of interviews and follow-ups.

Garcia: "Kiddos that are in care, they need to see their families and it is very hard as a worker, um to pick kids up, one kid may be six hours away, another kid may be four hours away and then you may have one locally."

With time the most precious commodity in a job where sadly new cases pile up daily Garcia and other investigators are hopeful and excited about a bill sponsored by Representative James Frank and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott.

"The hope is that by making them smaller areas that a) The kids will stay in that area and that we will be able to hold those folks much more accountable, to making sure that, that the kids are well taken care of, once they enter foster care," Representative James Frank said.

Frank's bill will create a "community-based care" model, where nonprofits oversee children in foster care, adoptive homes and relative's homes.

The system is already being tested in North Texas.

Frank: "In Fort Worth, in seven counties actually around Tarrant, it is working much better. But that is a process that is going to roll out over the next four to six years.

HB 5, authored by Frank, went into effect in September and made the Department of Family and Protective Services a stand-alone agency, with a direct line to the governor.

Frank: "It's really just to streamline, you know you need to make fast and correct decisions when you are dealing with kids."

And Representative Frank says the more bureaucracy and red tape, the longer it takes to make decisions.

He says the restructuring also gave the agency more control over hiring and firing.

Frank: "On one side it is very important we hire and we reward the very best workers to take care of the kids, I also think it is important that anytime we have someone who is not doing that, they are quickly exited stage right.

He says that would make room for those who are willing to go the extra mile to help the children and their families.

Garcia: "I definitely think that the work they are doing in Austin is making things better and it's going to continue to make things better. We've got a lot of people that are working at being a parent, alone and they just needed some support, we are positive support."

Despite knowing that each time they head to a new case they may find another new tragedy or tense family situation, there are also great rewards waiting at the end of the road.

Garcia: "It's amazing because in some of the cases we have made life-changing differences and we are also able to keep families together."  

Garcia knows each and every mile logged could be the one that encourages just one more child to reach for the stars.

Lawmakers also approved  $300 million in the new budget for pay raises for caseworkers and $88 million to hire 500 more caseworkers this year.

If you think someone you know or love is being abused, please call 1-800-252-5400.

You can also report online- here

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