AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the aftermath of recent high-profile cases like the death of Central Texas toddler Colton Turner, the state’s top Health and Human Services official says he is now seeing progress in efforts to transform an agency meant to protect the most vulnerable children. Particularly, caseworker and investigator retention and quality – not to mention mounting neglect and abuse cases – have been criticized by state lawmakers and the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which called for immediate change.
In a letter this week to that panel, HHSC Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek outlines steps taken within the agency’s Child Protective Services division to reduce staff turnover. Janek says the primary focus has been to improve morale and engage staff. Last month, CPS surveyed staff regarding job expectations, communication and feeling valued. It shows challenges still remain since the last survey in April.
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“Staff feels more satisfied with their job expectations, that their efforts at work count, and that they have a career with the organization,” Janek writes. “Yes, they still do not feel the organization sufficiently values staff of their input.”
Since beginning the transformation process in August, leaders have also toured each CPS region in the state to begin laying the groundwork for:
- New recruitment and hiring practices
- New training models
- Structured decision-making
- New supervisor training
- Revamped performances for all staff
“We are seeing progress in worker turnover and reducing caseloads but have yet to see statewide positive change on case outcomes because initiatives supporting this work are just now being implemented across the state,” Janek adds.
While he admits there will be challenges with a quick goal in mind, Janek says a statewide implementation of all pilot initiatives will be fully completed by next fall.
New safety and risk assessments
The agency’s progress report details new 24-hour safety and risk assessment tools to guide caseworker decision-making during initial contact with a child. This will be rolled out statewide by March 29.
There will also be a new risk assessment to be used within 30 days from the start of a case. This will go into effect statewide by August 23.
New Office of Child Safety
The report details the newly-created Office of Child Safety, which will take on abuse and neglect deaths and near-deaths historically spread out across several divisions. Policies and procedures for investigations and reviews will now be centralized and made available to all staff and the general public.
The office’s first hires took effect last month, in addition to beginning development on a public webpage to release child fatality information and data to the public. The office will also release its first Child Fatality Annual Report early this year.