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Remarks in San Antonio on Reforming CPS

Location: San Antonio, TX

Remarks in San Antonio on Reforming CPS

Thank you. I am honored to be joined by Senator Nelson, Representative Hupp, Representative Uresti, Health and Human Service Commissioner Albert Hawkins, Deputy Executive Commissioner Ann Heiligenstein, and the new head of the Department of Family and Protective Services, Carey Cockerell.

It is good to be with Judge Specia and the judges in this courthouse who make difficult decisions every day about the welfare of our children.

And it is a distinct honor to be joined by several dedicated public servants who recently helped serve as part of a crisis management team to turn around Child Protective Services in Bexar County by reducing a huge backlog in cases.

To these professionals I want to say a special thanks.

The dedication with which you performed your task will be emulated all across Texas as we engage in comprehensive reform of Child Protective Services.

Today the Health and Human Services Commission is releasing its recommendations for widespread reform aimed at protecting our most vulnerable children, children that are subject to neglect and abuse.

Last year, upon hearing reports of the safety net failing our children, I ordered a comprehensive, systemic review of CPS.

Even though we have dedicated additional money to CPS each of the last few sessions, it had become clear that the system had broken down, particularly at the investigation level where case documentation has been incomplete, proper procedures have not been followed and children at risk have been left in dangerous situations.

The Health and Human Services Commission took a detailed look at every task caseworkers and investigators perform as part of a top to bottom review.

They chronicled how much time investigators and caseworkers spent with families, and filling out paperwork.

They looked at the structure of the agency, and the division of labor.

They looked at what went wrong in individual cases, and solicited feedback from national experts.

The report we are releasing today is the product of the most thorough review done on this agency in many years.

It goes beyond the obvious question of how much we must spend to fix this agency, to an even more important question, which is how we spend it.

It contains bold recommendations that will require a totally new approach in addition to new resources.

And it builds on the tremendous work being done by Senator Nelson, and Representatives Hupp and Uresti.

This reform plan calls for significantly lower caseloads, better use of technology to assist workers in the field and a complete restructuring of the agency to provide more support to investigators and caseworkers.

And most importantly, it provides a new framework to better protect vulnerable children from abuse and neglect and to help those children pick up the pieces of their lives when they must be permanently removed from a home.

It strengthens all stages of CPS services, from investigations to in-home services to foster care and adoption.

It also emphasizes the need for abuse and neglect prevention services and improves law enforcement coordination so that child abusers face severe and swift consequences for their actions.

Let me emphasize a few of the critical elements.

First, this reform plan calls for the creation of a new Division of Investigation that will receive, screen and investigate all reports of abuse and neglect.

In fact, today I have issued an executive order calling on Commissioner Hawkins to create a Division of Investigation within CPS.

Investigators are the critical piece in the puzzle.

They are on the front lines of this effort and if the system breaks down at the investigatory level, it breaks down across all functions of the agency.

Under this reform plan, the agency will hire more than 800 new investigators, and the investigator caseload will drop 40 percent.

But this is not only about reducing caseloads. It is also about reducing the workload CPS investigators now carry for each case.

The second critical component of this plan requires the hiring of hundreds of additional clerical and administrative workers so investigators can spend more time with families and less time on paperwork.

And this plan brings 21st century technology to CPS, requiring the use of mobile technology so caseworkers in the field have access to updated case files and Internet transcription services so investigators do not spend hours transcribing notes instead of helping families.

If anyone wonders how dedicated some of our investigators are, consider that some of them were already paying out of their own pockets to have their dictated notes transcribed by an Internet service in order to catch up on backlogged cases.

Ten years ago, 600 administrative positions were cut, leaving more clerical work for investigators.

This was done because, in theory, new technology could make the job easier.

But technology can't transport a child to a parent-child visit or supervise that visit.

Nor can it initiate notification letters to parents. That takes a worker's time and effort.

Under this plan, CPS investigators will spend 39 percent more time with children and families and 58 percent less time on paperwork.

And we will bump up investigator salaries, with $5,000 retention bonuses, and a five percent across-the-board pay increase for other CPS workers.

Not only that, this reform plan calls for hiring retired criminal investigators and law enforcement officials all across Texas to assist in investigations and help coordinate joint action with local law enforcement so that we not only protect children, but bring justice to those individuals who abuse or neglect our most vulnerable citizens.

The mission does not stop when a report of abuse or neglect has been fully investigated. In many cases, it only begins there.

Often we must provide in-home services and closely monitor family interaction, and, in many instances for the safety of innocent children, they must be separated from their families, sometimes on a permanent basis.

One of the hardships for children who are moved from foster home to foster home is a lack of continuity in their medical care.

Under this reform plan, HHSC will establish a cost-effective health care delivery model for children in foster care.

Each child will have a primary care physician who manages their health and well-being and who is reimbursed through Medicaid.

And each child will have a medical passport, an electronic file that contains important medical information about each foster child, so that if a child ends up in the hospital, an emergency physician is not left guessing what medications they may be on.

And we will continue to work with private sector entities that have expert knowledge about foster homes to place children in the right environment where they will be nurtured and protected.

These are strong recommendations that will cost approximately $250 million over the next two years, and I support every cent. When all funds are included, this is a $329 million reform plan.

But more than committing to hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for CPS, today we are laying down a significant marker in the effort to mend a broken safety net.

This is not about asking Texans to pour more money into the same broken system.

We will reform our safety net and make it work first and foremost for the children it must protect, and secondly for the taxpayers that are its essential foundation.

This is a new approach to an age-old problem: How do we best protect children at risk?

Though not every child is born into ideal circumstances, every child is precious and every child has a future that counts.

We cannot pass a law that requires parents to love and care for their children, nor can we prevent every tragedy from happening. But we can make the ultimate effort to save and improve as many lives as possible by ensuring we have a safety net that protects children at risk and restores to them something they must never lose: hope in a better tomorrow.

I see a better tomorrow ahead because of a new Child Protective Services Agency that has the tools it needs to protect the children we so dearly love.

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