By Robert T. Garrett
April 2, 2009 / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN — The Senate has approved hiring more caseworkers so Child Protective Services can regularly visit nearly all of the abused and neglected youngsters in its care.
Senators today passed a bill ordering CPS to spend up to $12 million in the next two years to ensure that workers each month see at least 95 percent of youth in foster homes or still with birth families believed likely to mistreat children.
“If we make those visits or inspections less frequently than once a month, that’s when horrible things happen to kids,” said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. He said it would be “disgraceful” not to find the money in a two-year, $182.2 billion budget passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
Carona said later that he and his wife, Helen, adopted two young foster children, a boy and a girl, about 2 ½ years ago.
“They’re the bright spots of our lives,” he said.
Carona said he’s learned first-hand that the Texas foster care system is underfunded and that CPS workers are underpaid and overworked.
“I’ve seen what these children are put through,” Carona said. “Some of our foster care people are wonderful. Some are not.”
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said Carona’s emotional appeal “struck the heart” of Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, the Senate’s chief budget writer. Ogden and his wife, Beverly, have adopted a son who once was in foster care.
“Because of the conservative budget that we passed yesterday, I’m confident there’s another $12 million to fund it,” Ogden announced, after huddling with Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, in the back of the Senate chamber.
For three sessions, Shapleigh has pushed to hire the CPS workers needed to make visits as often as required by federal rules. Experts say infrequent caseworker visits increase the chances a child will remain for years in foster care, which increases an already high risk they will wind up in prison or homeless.
Today, Shapleigh proposed to tack his amendment giving CPS money to hire workers on an unrelated foster care bill by Nelson. Among other things, her bill requires at least five days notice to a foster home before CPS can take children there to a new placement.
The bill passed, 31-0. It now goes to the House.