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June 18, 2005

CPS trying to hire 850 new child abuse investigators

June 8, 2005 [Associated Press]

AUSTIN — Child Protective Services is looking for a few good men and women to join its ranks. Hundreds of new workers, actually, are needed for the state agency.

College graduates are being sought for 850 new child-abuse investigator positions that will be created in the next two years, said Darrell Azar, spokesman for CPS' parent agency, the Department of Family and Protective Services.

By mid-2007, CPS also will hire 1,670 other new employees, according to agency documents, including some 400 supervisors and 77 family-based safety services caseworkers, who also will need a bachelor's degree.

The hiring spurt is part of an attempted overhaul of CPS and its sister agency, Adult Protective Services, called for in a bill Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed Tuesday.

An emergency spending bill the governor is expected to sign this month would pump $200 million in additional state funds into CPS.

Recruiting so many college graduates for CPS' gritty work and low pay will be tough, though not impossible, said Madeline McClure, director of the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, or TexProtects.

Finding and retaining enough investigators won't be easy but can be done with the right support and pay, said McClure, who has spent several years urging improvements to the agency's recruitment and retention efforts.

CPS and APS have been under fire for more than a year. News reports showed children were beaten or starved to death even after their families came under scrutiny from CPS. Decisions by APS workers have been questioned after enfeebled adults were living in squalid, vermin-infested homes. Perry ordered audits of both agencies.

Carey Cockerell, state family and protective services commissioner, said he's ready to rebuild the two agencies.

"We are excited about the considerable resources the governor and the Legislature have given us," he said. "I am convinced that the quality of services that we provide will improve significantly, and the real winners will be the children and adults we serve."

Statewide, CPS will hire 2,517 new employees by mid-2007, and APS will get 89

Over the next two or three months, CPS will hire new managers and 33 training specialists, lease new office space and acquire additional desktop and notebook computers.

Large-scale hiring probably will not occur until late summer or early fall and then will be done in ways every quarter through August 2007, Azar said.

Perry said Texas' high caseloads for child-abuse investigators will be cut by 40 percent, from about 74 cases per worker per month now to 45 cases in 2007

But former state District Judge Scott McCown of Austin said that is still too high. In 1998, CPS investigators handled an average of 24 cases a month, but they've spiraled out of control since then, said McCown, who as a judge handled abuse and neglect cases.

"It's just unreal to think that caseloads of 45 are acceptable," said McCown, now executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for more state spending on education and social programs.

National child welfare groups recommend no more than 12 to 15 cases per month per investigator, but lawmakers say no states meet those guidelines.

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