As we reported in February, a Corpus Christi judge has demanded that the state’s entire Child Protective Services branch of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services restructure top to bottom. Judge Janis Jack said in the ruling that the Texas foster care system is “broken” and in some cases, “doing more harm to our children than good.”
It’s a scathing opinion that will potentially affect thousands of state workers, as well as the more than 12,000 kids in state foster care. The state is fighting the court order, characterizing it as judicial overreach.
Now, many current and former employees of CPS are demanding that the state stop fighting the order. They’re gathering this week at the Capitol to make the case.
Amy Zachmeyer, foster care caseworker and a member of the state employees’ union, is one of those urging the state to drop its appeal. She says that some of the problems the lawsuit addressed – high caseloads and quick worker turnover – were issues that the union already recognized had to be addressed.
“We don’t want to wait,” she says. “We don’t want to kick the can down the road. We want these issues to be addressed head-on so we can improve the services for the children and families.”
Zachmeyer says she is worried about some agency job losses because of the court-mandated restructuring, but she says so far she hasn’t heard complaints from frontline workers about this cry for change.
“I believe that there’s a need for the job that we do,” Zachmeyer says. “The people that work for the agency do this because they care about the children and the families that we serve. We do this because we want to see their lives improved. We want to do better for them. We want to see them in better circumstances.
“Our caseloads are high, and the issues that are addressed by the lawsuit continue it make it difficult for us to achieve that goal.”
Does this ruling for restructuring CPS go too far? Zachmeyer says she doesn’t think so, it’s not a complete tearing down of the system.
“We still want to have caseworkers to go out and serve children and families, that’s what we do,” she says. “We’re focused on the staff that are on the front lines working with clients.”
Zachmeyer says she believes the lawsuit addresses the controversial reform project DFPS begun in 2011. The project, Foster Care Redesign, is the state’s attempt to keep foster children closer to their home communities, among other issues.
In 2014, just a few years after the state took on the project, it was reported that the department was already over budget and would need more money to implement the planned changes – despite the previous promise that the state would not add funding for the project.
“(The lawsuit) is just wanting to make sure that we address all the missing pieces that have been missing with foster care, with foster care redesign,” Zachmeyer says.