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Texas Caseworkers Call For Foster Care Reforms

A new group has joined the chorus lambasting Texas for resisting court-ordered reforms to its foster care system: its own employees who work with children.

Susan Rial, member of the Texas State Employees Union, rallies with fellow Department of Family and Protective Services employees at the Capitol on March 9, 2016.

Texas officials are fighting tooth and nail against court-ordered, potentially costly reforms to the state’s foster care system — a position that’s drawn fierce criticism from child welfare advocates.

Now a new group has joined the chorus lambasting the state for resisting those reforms: its own employees who work with children in foster care.

Current and retired Child Protective Services caseworkers gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday, urging Texas leaders to call off their appeal of a federal district judge’s ruling that would require Texas to hire more employees who keep track of children in long-term foster care.

Caseworkers say they are dangerously overburdened by the state, having to keep tabs on more children than they are physically able to.

“Our ability to do our job is undercut by the unmanageable workloads that we are saddled with,” said Susan Rial, an Arlington-based caseworker, at a news conference organized by the Texas State Employees Union. “There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for us to spend on each child, family and client.”

U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled in December that Texas’ long-term foster care system violated children’s civil rights, finding that children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.” She ordered the state to appoint a “special master” to suggest various reforms to the system, which would include actions to lower state employees’ caseloads.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency overseeing foster care, has said the judge’s ruling in the lawsuit, first brought against the state in 2011, ignores years of system improvements. 

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is arguing that elected officials in Texas — not a federal judge — should be left to decide what, if any, reforms are necessary. Lawyers for the state in January asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for permission not to comply with the mandated reforms.

Paxton’s office has called the federal judge’s ruling a “misguided federal takeover of the Texas foster-care system.”

Caseworkers said Wednesday that the lengthy legal battle would harm vulnerable children.

“While the appeals process drags on, vulnerable Texas kids will continue to fall through the cracks,” Judy Lugo, the union’s president, said in a statement. “This is unacceptable for those on the front lines of the agency who work every day to protect clients and help families." 

The union represents 1,250 of the agency's 12,700 employees.

Advocacy group Texans Care for Children said Wednesday that department data showed the state had made “small steps” in recent years to improve caseloads, but said more funding to hire caseworkers was still necessary. Foster care caseloads fell from 31 per worker in 2014 to 28 the year after, according to the group.

"When children have been through abuse or neglect and then removal from their homes, they shouldn’t have to compete with 27 other vulnerable children for the support of a single CPS caseworker,” Stephanie Rubin, the Texans Care for Children's chief executive, said in a statement.

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Health care Politics State government Child Protective Services Department of Family and Protective Services State agencies