Madeline McClure, LCSW, is the CEO and founder of TexProtects, the Texas Association for the Protection of Children. We are pleased to bring you this op-ed encouraging support for higher compensation for Child Protective Services caseworkers.
Better-Paid Caseworkers Would Benefit CPS and Texas Children
By Madeline McClure, LCSW, CEO of TexProtects
When I left behind my career on Wall Street, I wanted to protect children from abuse and neglect and strengthen families, so I earned my Masters in Social Work and my clinical license.
I thought becoming a child protection caseworker would be an ideal way to achieve my calling. But I was quickly advised by those who have been there that CPS was where you worked “when you can’t find a job anywhere else.” The stress and the hazards are high, I was told, while the pay is too low for the work required and in comparison to comparable careers. And while the poor pay was not a factor for me, it’s a basic Economics 101 equation that compensation is a factor in attracting and retaining a higher quality workforce.
As a result of multiple factors, Texas is unable to reduce their yearly turnover of 40.5% for new frontline caseworkers. And many of those the department does manage to recruit do not have the appropriate background, experience and wisdom to make life and death decisions required of this enormous responsibility.
This is one of the primary problems that motivated me to found TexProtects, the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, a nonprofit working to reduce and prevent child abuse and neglect through research, education and advocacy.
One of our major goals this session is to upgrade the bleak working conditions that dissuaded me and many others from working for Child Protective Services (CPS). Our legislature has tried many avenues in the past. The current Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Commissioner, John Specia, is making excellent changes all around. But the one area that we have failed to adequately address is to competitively compensate frontline CPS workers and reward great casework.
CPS turnover cost DFPS an estimated $72.6 million in 2013. It also resulted in poorer outcomes for children. One study showed children with one consistent caseworker had a 74.5% chance of achieving permanency (a broad concept that can include adoption, family reunification, or other permanent living arrangements) within one year. But when a case was handed off to just one other worker, a child’s chance of reaching permanency within a year plunged to 17.5%. For children experiencing a change of caseworkers 6-7 times, their chances of achieving permanency in one year almost vanish.
In its report to the Sunset Commission, DFPS said that it must improve its recruitment and hiring practices “to identify the most qualified candidates who truly want a career at CPS, not just those who need a job, and who will work for the agency for a long time.”
The ways to do that are multiple – we also must tackle a change of culture, more manageable workloads and caseloads, less redundant and archaic paperwork, more non-monetary acknowledgements and rewards, and more field-based training. But increased investment in the number one asset of CPS – the frontline worker – is part of that solution. It’s a simple fact that business executives know well: money attracts and retains talent.
Those leaving the profession cite low pay among their main reasons for doing so. CPS caseworkers in Texas make only about two-thirds what workers in other crucial social service professions make, such as police, teachers and social workers. TexProtects has proposed a new compensation system that incorporates cost-of-living differentials and market-based comparable pay, targeted to the higher-turnover positions per county.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and on April 1, TexProtects will rally on the south steps of the Texas Capitol and then speak with legislators about accomplishing this goal and many others. Please join us by going to www.texprotects.org and registering. Allow the Texas legislative budget writers to hear your voice in advocating for the secondary caregivers of our abused children.