Child agency touts progress


Foster kid adoption rate has improved in S.A. region, but much wor

Web Posted: 10/03/2007 12:00 AM CDT

Nancy Martinez
Express-News Child Protective Services has in the past 21/2 years seen a higher turnover among caseworkers, taken on more cases, removed more children that it can place and seen a large gap in the number of black children in the system versus those in the community. Still, the state agency charged with keeping children safe sees itself as an improved department in the throes of heeding reforms required by the Legislature in 2005. That’s what about 75 child advocates who gathered Tuesday at a semi-annual child advocate meeting heard from CPS officials.

“We’re making a lot of progress. We’re a different agency than we were before the reforms,” Sherry Gomez, the San Antonio region CPS director, told the audience of foster care workers, community organizations, law enforcement officials and political leaders. “But it’s going to take awhile to transition.”

But Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who publicly criticized CPS this year for not following new state laws aimed at protecting young children by requiring that a specialist review their cases, reached a different conclusion.

“I don’t see the kind of improvement we need in the agency,” Uresti said during a phone interview Tuesday. “Status quo is not enough.”

At the meeting, held at the University of the Incarnate Word with the theme “The Dawn of a New Day,” CPS officials spoke about what the department is doing right and characterized its weaknesses — turnover is the worst it’s ever been and there are more cases than ever — as “growing pains.”

“CPS is a constant challenge. The system is overburdened, and we always need more reserves,” said Arabia Vargas, chairwoman of the Bexar County Child Welfare Board.

Still, there were marked improvements since the passage of Senate Bill 6, which required expansive reforms in virtually every aspect of policy, practice and performance for the beleaguered agency.

CPS touted its high foster child adoption rate: In fiscal 2007, 974 children in the San Antonio region were adopted, mostly by relatives. Last year, the region led the state with 651 adoptions, a vast improvement from the 316 in fiscal year 2004 and up from 625 in 2005.

Also discussed were the “taking it to the streets” efforts, in which caseworkers became decentralized, working across the city, and CPS’ “family team meeting” efforts, in which extended family members work with CPS to craft a safety plan for children.

Local CPS developments are reflective of what is happening across the state.

On Sept. 1, in its fourth 180-day progress report, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the umbrella agency over CPS, reported to lawmakers that the department is becoming more accountable and working on its shortcomings.

According to CPS, caseloads are also down for most caseworkers — from 27 average cases per day last year for San Antonio region caseworkers to 21 per day in fiscal year 2007, which ended Aug. 31. Statewide, the caseload decreased from 26 per day last year to 20 per day in 2007, according to CPS.

But one of the department’s biggest challenges this past year has been placing foster children.

Since April, 44 children in the San Antonio region have slept in CPS offices because there was nowhere else for them to stay.

CPS officials say finding placements is a daily struggle because the rate at which children are being removed is greatly outpacing the rate at which foster parents will take them.

CPS officials said the department is also striving to fix a problem of disproportional removals. Across the state and in San Antonio, more black children are taken from their parents. In the San Antonio region, 6 percent of children are black, but 15 percent of those in foster care are black, CPS reported.

Training new staff has become a significant challenge, especially because caseworker turnover is getting worse.

Despite the reforms, children are still dying of child abuse and neglect at an unprecedented rate.

In fiscal year 2006, CPS identified 14 children who died of child abuse and neglect, the second-highest number since the department began keeping track.

Death numbers for fiscal year 2007 are not yet available.

“The report reflects the status quo,” Uresti said. “We need to continue to monitor this on a monthly basis and not let up on our primary goal of protecting our children.”


nmartinez@express-news.net

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