Make CPS a place where social workers want to work

A Texas Legislative panel has proposed to raise the salary of caseworkers by $12,000. Our Director, Monica Faulkner and Will Francis, the Government Relations Director at the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers write about why social workers avoid working for Texas CPS.  

By Monica Faulkner and Will Francis

The majority of Child Protective Services (CPS) workers are not social workers. Instead, Texas employs people with degrees in math, history, science, art and music to make life-altering decisions about vulnerable families and children. You don’t even need a bachelor’s degree. You can get hired without one.

As our state grapples with workforce issues in CPS, it’s time to address the workplace environment that has discouraged social workers from applying and working there.

Social workers are licensed professionals who have received specific education from accredited schools. These professionals spend years learning and developing their understanding of children and families within the context of their environment. Students learn the fundamentals of what drives human behavior and how to approach complex social issues from multiple perspectives.

Despite some misconceptions, students are not encouraged to remove children from their homes.

They are trained to work with families to heal the whole family and strengthen communities. This perspective is better for families and taxpayers.

Unlike students in other majors who work at CPS, social work students complete supervised field placements where they receive support and intense feedback about their performance. Each year, social work programs recruit students to complete field placements at Texas CPS. Social work programs receive a small amount of federal funds to pay students’ tuition as long as they commit to working at CPS after they graduate.

But sadly, many schools struggle to find students interested because of the reputation of CPS. Why? Because Texas CPS is not a place where social workers want to work.

CPS workers make less than the underpaid teachers in our state. They frequently work without taking time off for vacations or family emergencies because they fear no one will work their cases if they are gone. They take their work home with them daily and finish paperwork at night so they can make contact with kids on their caseloads after school hours. They take money out of their own pockets to buy a child a meal or some other essential. They miss spending time with their own children to take care of Texas’ children.

But what crushes good workers is the unsupportive and often hostile work environment. Many students have described a culture of fear where numbers are valued more than quality outcomes.

Social workers are professionally trained to effectively deal with child maltreatment, substance use, mental health and family violence and are committed to addressing the impact of trauma on children. Social workers can handle the day-to-day work of CPS better than any other profession, but social workers at CPS are underpaid and devalued, and they have left the agency. Social workers have been told they think and care too much, spending too much time with the families and not closing enough cases.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has suggested that the pay for CPS workers be substantially increased. The agency has also taken strong steps to remove hostility in the work environment. We all should support these efforts and ask the Legislature to allocate funds for salary increases. Policymakers should also require an overhaul of training content, supervision models within offices and caseloads that align with national recommendations of 12 to 15 cases per worker.

The best step in improving the child protective workforce is to recruit and retain social workers. The social work profession began within the child welfare movement, and social workers are the most qualified for this challenging work. Make CPS a place social workers want to work, and the entire state benefits.

Originally published in The Fort Worth Star-Telegramthe Austin American-Statesman and The Dallas Morning News