Texas DPS troopers helping CPS locate at-risk children across the state

Some Texas lawmakers say Child Protective Services caseworkers or law enforcement officers must immediately visit thousands of youngsters reported as abused or neglected. (CBS Austin)

Texas Department of Public Safety confirms state troopers are helping child protective services locate at-risk children across the state.

This comes one day after a senate finance hearing at the capitol where state senators called for immediate action to find these children.

Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman said there are 2,844 children with allegations of abuse and neglect who caseworkers have not yet seen. Several hundred of those are high-risk cases, and state law requires those children be seen within 24-48 hours.

Dimple Patel, a former CPS caseworker tells CBS Austin the workload is impossible.

"They're carrying double what they should be. In some of these urban counties they may have 40 or 50 investigations on their workload and that's very dangerous because the recommended national best practice is around 15 cases per caseworker," Patel said.

A Sunset Advisory Commission review of CPS found 47 percent of caseworkers leave within their first year on the job.

"We've got this chronic cycle of people leaving and leaving behind cases and those cases are children, those cases are families," Patel said.

Patel spent nearly a decade with CPS and worked on the front lines as an investigator.

"Caseworkers work alone. They don't get to work in pairs, they don't carry anything to protect themselves and they're working in dangerous neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night and the cases just keep coming," Patel said.

She now works for nonprofit, TexProtects which helps tackle CPS reform and protect at-risk children.

Patel watched carefully as Wednesday's hearing at the capitol unfolded

DFPS commissioner Hank Whitman is asking for $53 million to hire 550 caseworkers.

"The average salary for starting caseworker salary ranges from $34-37 thousand," Patel said.

The CPS review also found four caseworkers quit each day and Whitman also promises to create a salary compensation study with the additional funds. Patel believes Whitman's plan will work

"It isn't just that the ones who are there aren't getting paid enough, it's that the work loads are too high," Patel said.

Patel said each caseworker should only handle 15 investigations, but some a forced to take on as many as 50 which created a culture of the employees being scared that something tragic will happen to a child on their watch.

"We hold these caseworkers responsible for a huge thing, keeping children safe and protected, but we don't give them the resources needed," Patel said.

The senate finance committee created a workgroup of five senators that plans to gather input from DFPS on the agency's plans to fix the broken CPS system. The workgroup will then make its final recommendations to the committee.

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