If the budget cuts proposed in the Texas Legislature pass, all but the wealthiest of Texans will feel their sting, but among those who will be hurt the most are the state’s abused children.
“The budget cuts will undo the progress that the Department of Family and Protective services and its employees have made toward protecting abused children,” said Myko Gedutis, a Texas State Employees Union organizer. “If these cuts pass, the Child Protective Services division of DFPS will lose more than 700 workers, most of whom provide direct services to abused children and their families. And other divisions of DFPS are taking hits too; there will be fewer workers to oversee day care safety, to investigate elderly abuse complaints, and to answer reports about abuse.”
The proposed budget also does more than cut staff; it reduces or eliminates payments that support abused children like the kinship care program that pays a modest stipend to relatives to care for children whose parents have lost custody because of abuse.
“The proposed state budget bill . . . endangers all the progress Child Protective Services has made and threatens to take CPS back to the days the days when . . . children were sleeping in CPS offices, and case workers were overwhelmed,” said Dr Jane Burstain of the Center for Public Policy, an Austin-based research center, in written testimony on the proposed budget.
A delegation of TSEU members who work for CPS and other Department of Family and Protective Services divisions last Wednesday visited state lawmakers as part of a TSEU mini-Lobby Day to urge them to oppose cuts to Child Protective Services and other DFPS services that support Texas’ most vulnerable population.
“We did a good job of explaining the impact that the DFPS cuts would have,” Gedutis said. “But we’ll have to do more to stop these irresponsible cuts.” Gedutis told TSEU members at the mini-Lobby Day that “we need to get more of our members committed to attending our April 6 Lobby Day and we need to reach out to people in the community and get them involved in the fight against the cuts.”
Although Texas remains a low-service state when it comes to protecting children of abuse, “there have been extensive efforts on multiple levels in recent years to improve how the CPS system operates,” says a recent report on CPS by the Center for Public Policy Priorities entitled The Guide to Texas Child Protective Services.
One reason for this improvement is that in 2007 DFPS was authorized to hire more caseworkers to investigate child abuse allegations and to provide services to children when investigations confirmed abuse. As a result, caseloads while still high have been reduced to manageable levels.
“With caseloads at a manageable level, caseworkers (can) visit with children and families more often and ensure the children (are) safe and families (are) getting needed services,” says The Guide.
But the proposed budget would cut 749.5 employee positions at CPS, nearly 400 of whom would be workers who work directly with abused children and their families. “In 2003, the Legislature made the mistake of eliminating positions at the CPS with tragic effects,” Gedutis said. ”It would be a shame to repeat the mistake made in 2003″
The reforms, which began 2005, also tried to address the high staff turnover rate that was identified as one of the barriers to improving child protection services. In 2005, DFPS’s turnover rate was 24 percent. In 2006 after the state upgraded child protective services positions, the turnover rate declined by 13 percent.
“Child protection is high-stress, low pay work,” Gedutis said. “One of the things that helps retain quality workers and reduce the turnover rate is that the job offers decent health care and pension benefits. But if the budget cuts go through, these benefits will be drastically cut, and when the economy improves we’ll likely see a lot of highly qualified workers leave state service for a job that pays more and has less stress. That will mean that abused children will have fewer people in their corner to protect them.”