March 4, 2005

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Council met at the John H. Winters Building, Public Hearing Room, 701 West 51st Street, Austin, Texas. Council Members present were Imogen Papadopoulos, John Castle, Linda Bell Robinson, Ronald Brandon, and Faith Johnson. A quorum was present. Also present was Commissioner Carey Cockerell and Department staff.

Agenda Item 1 Call to Order

Imogen Papadopoulos called the meeting to order.

Staff Briefing
a. Commissioners Report

Commissioner Cockerell remarked on the hard work of staff with the House Appropriations Committee, Senate Finance Committee, Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, and the House Human Services Committee on HB 6, SB 6, and the budget bills. The Department has enjoyed a significant amount of support from the Governors Office, legislative leadership, and Committee members.

A new mobile dictation service, Cyber Secretary, has been made available for staff in the field to dictate notes over the phone, and in a manner of minutes the electronic notes are available to upload in to the IMPACT system. Staff response has been very positive.

A number of applications have been received and interviews scheduled for the Deputy Commissioners position. A decision will be made soon.

Staff has been diligently working to establish a project management structure for reform efforts and implementation, including identifying project coordinators, project initiators, and putting the reforms in a format that can be easily tracked. Resources are being developed now so that the project will be ready to implement at the end of Legislative Session.

Mr. Castle asked what issues are emerging from the reform package in the Session, and Commissioner Cockerell replied one issue is how the independent administrator, outsourcing, and privatization will work, and there is discussion of doing a pilot first. The Department will look closely at contracting, the process of changing from open enrollment to RFPs and competitive bidding, and building capacity where needed. Another issue is medical homes, medical passports, and informed consent.

Dr. Brandon asked for clarification on the process of implementing independent administrators. Commissioner Cockerell said regional placement coordinators have been rolled out in two regions, and the providers indicate they like that concept. The Department is moving forward in areas identified; although it is unknown what changes will result from the reform package. Dr. Brandon stated he thinks the centralized placement concept is excellent, but he is concerned it is understaffed. Commissioner Cockerell concurred.

Public Testimony

There was no public testimony.

Staff Briefing
b. CPS Reform Update

Ms. Joyce James reported the 164 recommendations for improving CPS have been presented to the Governor and discussed in multiple legislative committees, where they have received overwhelming support. The recommendations have been assigned to nine CPS initiative work groups and ten cross-program initiative work groups. CPS is moving forward in reform efforts where legislative approval is not required. Ms. James reviewed a handout that provided details of the plan.

A primary recommendation of the CPS reforms is strengthening investigations, and the positions for Director of Investigations, State Risk Director, and Senior Investigators have been posted around the state. Effort is being made to ensure consistency in the job functions and responsibilities in their role of providing consultation and support to CPS caseworkers.

Ms. Papadopoulos inquired if Senior Investigators have a law enforcement background, will they be social workers and have the capacity to remove. Ms. James replied they will be hired to bring a different discipline, but they will be CPS workers and will not be law enforcement officers. They will provide the forensic skills and evidence gathering expertise, and therefore will primarily serve as a consultant and provide some training.

Dr. Brandon asked if equivalent positions for Risk Director and Senior Investigator exist on the APS side, therefore an overlap of service provision. Ms. James responded that as opportunities arise for cross training with other programs with investigative functions, it will be opened up to APS as well as licensing staff.

Under the Support Quality Casework Initiative, a Rapid Response Team has been set up in every region of the State to deal with the overwhelming backlog of pending investigations. Lifting the burden of cases in conjunction with other initiatives being put in place will enable a higher currency level than has been previously possible. A team is working on plans to sustain reduced investigations with tools for workers and managers to maintain currency. Manageable caseloads is a key component to staff retention.

The Hire Ahead Program will roll out 189 positions with trained staff ready to fill vacancies as they occur. This will eliminate vacant caseloads being assigned to already overloaded caseworkers, which will improve staff retention.

In keeping the lines of communication with staff open, efforts are being made to ensure the District Directors are informed, and that they are channeling communication down to the Program Administrators and field staff. Ms. James has begun sending out broadcasts to staff to make sure they are aware of events across the State.

The centralized placement process initiated in Region 8 has been well received by the provider community. A unit of staff is responsible for making recommendations for all child placements, receiving up-to-date provider information daily, which helps cut down on the number of children placed in emergency shelters, keeps children in the community, and keeps siblings together. Ms. Papadopoulos asked if there is not a placement available, how is information shared outside the region; Ms. James replied the centralized placement team is responsible for contacting providers in other regions. Dr. Brandon expressed concern that adequate staff is not available to deal with the magnitude of placements, and although it is a wonderful program, it will fail because it is understaffed. Ms. James responded staffing is a challenge, but adjustments will be made as staff increases with CPS reform. Ms. Papadopoulos requested Ms. James come back to the Council with a report in the event those services are privatized under CPS reform. Ms. James explained if that function is privatized, the responsibility would lie with the independent administrator.

The Department of State Health Services has completed the psychotropic medication guidelines, utilizing a panel of adolescent child psychiatrists and child psychologists to develop the plan. The plan has been distributed to all staff and providers to assist in ensuring children in care receive psychotropic medications as appropriate.

Ms. James provided an update on disproportionality of children of color. The Arlington and Houston Districts were highlighted as these districts have the most children. Partners in the community have been identified and invited to be part of a steering committee, and there has been great response and support. The partnership with the Casey Foundation had an impact. In February the Casey Foundation funded a workshop for the Dallas and Houston staff titled Undoing Racism by the Peoples Institute from New Orleans, specifically addressing institutional racism. Ms. Papadopoulos inquired if the Juvenile Justice System has been included, and Ms. James answered yes, that efforts are being made to get as many people to the table as possible. Dr. Brandon requested the percentages of Hispanics be provided, and Ms. James said that population is not disproportionate at this point. Judge Johnson asked if the role of the steering committee is to look at the reasons behind disproportionality of children of color in the system, and Ms. James responded in the affirmative.

CPS is looking for opportunities to outstation caseworkers into the community. In some regions staff is co-located in advocacy centers, with law enforcement and juvenile probation agencies. The goal is to move away from large office housing to more of a community situation.

As CPS moves from five to nine regions, adding resources to reduce the workload is essential, but requires corresponding improvements to management systems to meet those goals. Special administrators as temporary interim positions have been created in some regions to reduce the level of responsibility for the district director until approval to deploy to the nine regions, at which point those positions will be posted. A Director of Field position has been interviewed for, and hopefully that person will be on board soon as part of the management team for the implementation of CPS reform in the field. Ms. Robinson asked if the special positions are hired from within or outside the agency, concerned about the ability of someone from outside the agency to quickly be productive. Ms. James responded hiring from outside the agency is advantageous to bring in other disciplines and skills in order to enhance reform efforts.

Reading, Correction, and Approval of Minutes of January 7, 2005

Judge Johnson moved to approve the minutes with corrections and Dr. Brandon seconded. The Minutes were approved as corrected.

Child and Family Service Plan

Ms. Janis Brown recapped the Child and Family Service Plan review process. The five-year plan will be submitted in June to the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

APS Reform Update

Ms. Debra Wanser reported on the HHSC report issued last May to the Governors office containing 252 corrective actions outlined for APS reform. Thirteen workgroups have been developed to work on different aspects of APS reform, with a comprehensive work plan to ensure each corrective action is addressed. Activities have been outlined for the implementation of corrective actions with sequencing and times for each action, and a monitoring system to make sure the actions are addressing the intent of the reform. Ms. Wanser gave an update on the internal audit of implementation activities to date. As several implementation efforts impact initiatives across the agency, APS is working with a cross-agency workgroup on agency-wide projects.

Significant policy changes are increasing the thoroughness of investigations by strengthening interviewing techniques, assessment of client risks, and improving collection and documentation of evidence. In regional offices, routers review each intake received and identify special needs before the case is assigned to a caseworker. Currently, a supervisor must review and sign off on every case before it is closed or progresses from investigations to service delivery. Supervisors and caseworkers have been trained on new policies. The next step is to incorporate the new policies into a revised handbook.

The second half of the field test of the new risk assessment tool has been completed. Staff can do more comprehensive assessments by incorporating the five different areas in assessment and investigation. Ms. Robinson inquired if the medical community had input on the development of the questionnaire, and Ms. Wanser responded that HHSC convened a group with experts from the University, the medical community, as well as other areas. The Council requested a copy of the risk assessment tool.

The new nine regional directors were in place as of January 1. Ms. Wanser provided an update on various staffing positions that have been filled. Dr. Brandon asked if the loss of staff has been abated, and Ms. Wanser replied in some areas it has, but other area continue to see a high turnover. Dr. Brandon asked if APS is still behind with new staff. Ms. Wanser stated that because of the requirements and experience needed for the new positions; they have been filled by internal staff, resulting in vacancies in other areas.

Dr. Brandon asked for an update on liasoning with DADS and the area agencies on aging. Ms. Wanser described very cooperative work with DADS on the transfer of the Guardianship program. Nothing specific has been done in working with area agencies on aging. Dr. Brandon expressed concern that there will potentially be an overlap of services, and Ms. Wanser said avoiding an overlap was the intention of transferring the Guardianship program to DADS.

Ms. Papadopoulos asked to receive an update on the development of community partnerships as well as what kinds of educational programs for the public are being developed in the area of APS. Ms. Papadopoulos expressed the need to be ready for expanding APS numbers as baby boomers enter the range for services. Ms. Wanser said those two issues are planned for the May Council meeting. May is the Elder Abuse Prevention Month, with a number of activities underway. May also is the kickoff month for a yearlong statewide APS initiative to engage the community, with the culmination of a summit in May of 2006.

Ms. Papadopoulos inquired if the agency had a program to assist setting up a no-charge bank account for Social Security checks to avoid checks being stolen from post office boxes, and Ms. Wanser said she would get information on such a program.

Administration Update

Mr. Ben Delgado informed members that the Dallas County Commissioners Court gave notice January 20 of terminating the Stemmons location lease, which will displace over 560 staff. Mr. Delgado reviewed the scope of the move and the proposed timeframes. With new staff from the reform efforts, space for 800 people is needed. Mr. Delgado has been working with the Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Building and Procurement Commission, as only the TBPC is authorized to commit the State to a lease. The Department will define the housing needs and communicate that to TBPC. The cost of the move is estimated at about $2 million, and currently the Senate Finance and House Appropriations have approved that exceptional item.

Mr. Castle commented that the initiative to locate staff within the community would be more advantageous than the current large office complex situation, and Mr. Delgado concurred and said that co-location opportunities are being examined where beneficial. Ms. Papadopoulos asked if diversifying locations would potentially mean having more than one Rainbow Room, and Mr. Delgado replied no, there would be one Rainbow room at the larger of the locations.

Legislative Update

Ms. Jennifer Sims reported that the agency is tracking about 150 bills, 27 of which are high priority because of their impact to the agency. SB 6, sponsored by Sen. Nelson, has been voted off of the Senate floor after much discussion and 21 amendments were added. Chairman Hupp concluded six days of hearings concerning CPS and APS issues, laying out 13 bills and inviting testimony where the Department presented on different topics each day, with 13 hours of public testimony. Dr. Brandon asked which bill contains the reform initiatives, and Ms. Sims responded that both bills incorporated large portions of the CPS reform. Dr. Brandon asked about the independent administrator function. Ms. Sims said it currently is not in HB 6. [Note: Currently, there are different versions of out sourcing in both SB 6 and HB 6.]

Numerous other bills are being monitored as well, with staff and resource witnesses attending hearings. The agency has received a copious amount of questions and requests for information and explanation of procedures, and staff is working diligently to respond.

Ms. Sims informed the Council they will all go before the Senate Nominations Committee for the nomination process for a new term on the DFPS Council this Session.

APS Training Initiative

Ms. Jane Norwood stated that of the 39 corrective actions related to training, 9 have been implemented, 2 are planned, and 28 are in progress. Ms. Norwood presented slides that contrasted entry-level training before and after reform, and described the Blended Learning APS Skills Training (BLAST) and the new training process; the professional education program to reimburse college expenses for staff; and subject matter expert training for intense training in four specific subject matters. The process of establishing requirements by job classification is underway across the agency to provide documentation to management staff to enable compliance tracking with those requirements. Dr. Maria Scannapieco from the University of Texas Arlington School of Social Work has been contracted with to do a formal evaluation of APS BLAST. Her previous contracted evaluations have been invaluable.

Dr. Brandon asked if the issues of elder alcohol abuse or financial exploitation are addressed. Ms. Norwood responded that financial exploitation is one of the five domains in risk assessment. The Protective Services Training Institute has several workshops that address issues of substance abuse, although substance abuse in the elderly may need more focus.

Volunteer and Community Engagement Website

Ms. Terri Ware, Director of the Center for Program Coordination, provided the background and role of the Center for Volunteer and Community Engagement. Penelope Doherty directs 19 FTE staff dedicated to oversee recruitment, retention, and training of volunteers, and assist program staff with effective community engagement strategies. Ms. Ware described various accomplishments of the Center.

Ms. Penelope Doherty walked through the new website features and described the interface process for volunteers. Since launching the dedicated volunteer website, visits have increased by 1,000 per month. The Are You Ready campaign has had a very positive response. Ms. Papadopoulos inquired how well trained local staff are on the site in order to publicize it in their communities, and Ms. Doherty responded the dedicated positions are very well trained, and they are the resource for the local staff. The features are also highlighted in Insite, the DFPS staff magazine. Ms. Papadopoulos asked where in the agency the responsibility lies to inform the public about this page, and Ms. Doherty said that is in the communications plan, and the Strategic Plan in the reform package also addresses public communication and awareness activities.

Incident in Alice, Texas

Ms. Joyce James detailed a case of severe neglect involving serious drug use by the mother. Law enforcement was not immediately able to go out with the two workers who went out to the home. The mother became agitated and fired from a shotgun at the workers. The workers were not hit, although the car windows were shot out. Police were called and the mother was arrested. The EAP program has been enlisted to help all workers deal with this traumatic situation.

Ms. Papadopoulos asked what services have come out of EAP. Ms. James described various opportunities for counseling or reassignment available to staff. Dr. Brandon asked if this was a previously visited case; Ms. James was not certain. Dr. Brandon asked who would pay for the car damaged by gunfire, and Ms. James said that the employee would have to pay for damages. She noted that staff had taken up a collection to assist with costs. Judge Johnson suggested restitution as a condition of parole or probation. Judge Johnson inquired what the offense is, and Ms. James said aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Ms. Robinson stated this case serves as an eye-opener that cases with this magnitude of abuse should have a plan of action in which caseworkers should wait for law enforcement. Such a plan might aid in dispelling fear in other workers across the state.

Tablet PCs

Ms. Debby Wattman, Information and Resource Manager, described the significance and benefits of mobile technology. Wireless access availability and security is being addressed. Accommodations will be made to not lose the benefit of peer-to-peer interaction by reduced office time. Ms. Wattman gave an update on the implementation process to date and the vision for use of the new technology.

Scott Silverthorne demonstrated how to operate the tablet PC, describing its features and flexibility as he walked through the process of its design functions.


The meeting was adjourned at 12:53 pm.