The Texas Legislature mandated a series of reforms for Child Protective Services. Estella Olguin is the Houston CPS Spokesperson. She says it was apparent the agency was overwhelmed with work and needed help.
"After they saw some of these tragic cases that were occurring where children were dying and maybe there had been previous CPS history, they got a good look at what's happening, where is the breakdown happening. Part of that was that we had very new staff or staff that had such a high caseload that they really couldn't attend to everything."
Caseworkers were handling as many as 60 cases per person and turnover was high. The state authorized the hire of 1,500 new caseworkers to help lighten the load. An additional 1,000 employees will be hired for other positions. As the area with the largest child population, Houston will receive the highest proportion of those employees. The job involves long hours, relatively low pay and little thanks. But Raymond Wellborn says as a former teacher he saw a huge need for more CPS caseworkers.
"While I was a teacher I was in a pretty low-income school and I ran into children who were involved with CPS on a regular basis. I got to meet a few caseworkers there and I constantly heard how they were overworked; they needed more people. I had teachers calling in and CPS couldn't respond fast enough because they didn't have enough people. I just figured that I needed to help fill that gap."
The new employees also go through twice as much training as before. In past years, there were six weeks of classes before a caseworker was approved. Now the classes are 12 weeks, and half that time is spent on specialized training in specific fields. Olguin says the improved training is designed to reduce turnover and increase efficacy. The agency hopes the specialty training will help new caseworkers better recognize risks to children. The agency is also hiring several senior investigators with police experience. About 850 of the new caseworkers will work in investigations.