AUSTIN (KXAN) — The state’s Child Protective Services Division may finally be getting a leg up on tackling huge caseloads, according to the agency’s commissioner. Hank Whitman told the House Human Services Committee Monday the agency is hiring more child protective case workers than ever this year.

By the end of this month, it’s projected CPS will have hired 692 new front line workers. That’s since a hiring push that began in December and is up 65 percent from hiring numbers during the same period last year, he said. It’s a big step toward a goal of bringing on 828 new staff to join 12,000 existing caseworkers around Texas — all of whom recently received a $1,000 per month raise to help staunch a flood of turnover.

The funding comes from $150 million state lawmakers have already allocated to CPS on an emergency basis. The money is also paying for law enforcement support to help find missing kids.

Texas Child Protective Services’ workload is staggering. Staff investigated 166,753 cases last year, Whitman said. This session, lawmakers are all ears, pushing three House bills in a bid to help keep up the momentum.

The bills include making the Department of Family Protective Services a standalone agency. HB 4 would give it direct attention from the governor himself.

Another, HB 5, pushes for putting kids in CPS custody with other family whenever possible. “We’ve talked about the need to make sure we’re not taking kids out of homes prematurely because every time we remove a child we know we’re creating trauma,” said Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls.

Rep. Frank, who sits on the House Human Services Committee, tells KXAN a third piece of legislation, HB 6, expands a recent redesign of the foster care system, increasing what he calls community involvement.

“There is a full system in place to make sure they’re doing well and the people getting involved are nonprofits that are focused completely on welfare and you still have CPS controlling the front end, the judges controlling whether or not the kid’s removed,” Frank said.

Less state involvement doesn’t sit well though with a UT Law School director.

“The outsourcing would be a serious mistake,” said Scott McCown, director of the Children’s Rights Clinic. “The data shows that states that privatized have not gotten better results and costs have skyrocketed. Why pay more and get less?”

The Senate version of House Bill 6 is SB11. DFPS would implement a series of broad reforms, including reviewing and retaining abuse and neglect records for longer, and making sure CPS special investigators see residential childcare facilities abuse victims within three days.

Last month we told you every day, between 400 and 450 “priority one” kids had not seen a caseworker within 24 hours.

The house committee will hold public debate on the CPS-related bills later this session. The bills of course must pass through the various stages of possible amendments and votes before becoming law.