The Austin Chronicle

CPS Crisis Tops the Agenda

By Amy Smith, January 14, 2005, News

Gov. Rick Perrys plan to overhaul Child Protective Services is a good effort but doesnt go far enough to correct a system hobbled by years of financial and staffing shortfalls, childrens advocates say. In reform proposals laid out last week in San Antonio, Perry called for the creation of a new CPS investigation division and $250 million in new money to hire more than 800 investigators and hundreds of clerical and support staff. Perry promised as well to bring CPS into the 21st century with new technology to reduce the amount of time caseworkers spend on paperwork.

Scott McCown, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, summed up his response this way: "I'm torn. It's real money and real people, but after years of neglect it doesn't catch us up." While serving as a Travis Co. district court judge in 1998, McCown wrote a sweeping critique of CPS, prompting then-Gov. George W. Bush to order the hiring of more caseworkers, who at the time were handling monthly caseloads of 24, then considered at crisis levels. Now the average caseload per investigator is three times higher, but Perrys plan would only reduce the caseload to 45 an improvement, but still well above the national average of 12 to 15, McCown said.

McCown is also cool to privatizing children's services and says he is troubled by the idea of "turning over the fate of children to XYZ Corporation." Perry's plan calls for continuing to work with the private sector in such areas as foster care placement.

The governor's proposal coincided with the release of a CPS review, which Perry ordered Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins to conduct after a number of children died last year while in CPS care.

Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who chairs the House Committee on Human Service, said he is "delighted" that Perry has designated his reform plan as an emergency legislative priority. "The governor has sent a clear message today about his commitment to the safety and welfare of our most vulnerable citizens," Uresti said at a press conference Monday to discuss the House committee's own report on the systemic failures of CPS and Adult Protective Services. Committee members, including Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat, were also at the press conference.

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