Updated 05/11/2010 07:02 AM
Shuffling change in CPS through caseworkers
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-- As president of the Texas Chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, Ryan Dollinger asks many questions on behalf of other foster kids.
Despite his role, there’s still one question about his own case that remains unanswered. Why did CPS place him in a camp for emotionally disturbed boys, when according to Dollinger, he was a kid that never caused trouble?
"I've asked that question before, and my caseworker at the time told me, 'Well, because your other caseworker put you here,’" Dollinger said.
Being passed from one caseworker to the next is the result of CPS' high turnover rate. It's varied from 34 to 23 percent in the last five years. Currently, less than a third of CPS workers have been with the agency for more than three years.
"I mean, it takes a long time to get to know somebody, especially if you're going to be their parent," former foster child Trista Miller said.
Miller also grew up in foster care, but said her experience was much different than most foster kids.
"The attrition rate at CPS is horrible," she said. "It's like six months that most caseworkers stay. My caseworker is still there."
Miller had the same caseworker for all six years she was in foster care. That's a rare success, if you ask anyone at CPS.
Samantha Kinney is coming up on her three-year mark as a caseworker. She makes parenting decisions for as many as 25 kids a day.
"The job can take its toll on you," Kinney said. "You're always going to be behind. It's impossible to be 100 percent all the time."
Federal standards require that 95 percent of children see their caseworker at least once a month. In 2008, that happened only for 74 percent of Texas foster kids. The state barely escaped paying a $4 million fine due to a technicality.
Even as kids skip from one caseworker to the next, lawmakers skipped from one politically-charged issue to the next during the last legislative session, squandering a chance to lower caseload.
A 2009 bill asked for $12 million to hire more caseworkers. It was on its way to a final vote, before the politicians blew it off. Instead they chose to spend their time debating voter ID.
"I was so disappointed with the events of last session," State Representative Patrick Rose said. "I think it’s important to make this CPS redesign, and whatever statutory or budget changes behind that, we need to make it a big priority. I intend to do so as chairman of the Human Services Committee in the House. Senator Jane Nelson, the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, I know intends to do so as well."
News 8 asked Nelson for an interview, and even offered to meet in her home district near Dallas. A spokesperson said the senator was unavailable unless our series aired where Nelson's voters would see it.
Instead, she sent a statement.
"I am always looking for ways to improve all aspects of the system, including how well we care for children who are removed from their homes," the statement read.
• Click here to view our interactive timeline of the changes of CPS and foster care. Also you can see videos of those who've made it through the system and see their take on it all.
"There's just so much that needs to be changed, that people have kind of numbed themselves," Miller said.
Miller worked for CPS as a youth specialist until last year. She left the agency after becoming a mother and decided to go back to school.
"I always thought my caseworker worked really hard for me," she said. "And when I worked for the department, it confirmed for me how hard she does work for other young people. And it also confirmed for me there are people who work there that don't care. They're there to get their paycheck. They're there because they got their social work degree; this is an easy job to get into."
Now, CPS is tasked to find more of the right people and keep them. The state has made strides in the right direction. Since 2005, CPS added almost 500 caseworkers to the department that oversees kids in state custody. That lowered caseload from 40 to 28.
But that's still double the recommended amount according to the Child Welfare League of America.