A copy of the most recent annual report(s) from the State's citizen review panel(s) and a copy of the State agency’s most recent response(s) to the panel(s). Section 106(c)(6) of CAPTA requires that the citizen review panels develop annual reports and make them available to the public.  The report should include, at a minimum, a summary of the panel's activities and the panel's recommendations to improve the child protection services system at the State and local levels. The report should also include information on the progress the State is making in implementing the recommendations of the panels.

Program Purpose

This report provides a summary of the activities by the Texas Citizen Review Teams. It is being submitted as required by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, Section 106 “Grants to States for Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and Treatment Programs” [42 U.S.C. 5106a].

Background

There are 17 Citizen Review Teams as established by the Texas Family Code (TFC §261.312). Four of these teams are designated as meeting the requirements of Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, Appendix I. This report consists of information concerning the issues addressed only by the four Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Citizen Review Teams. All four teams were incorporated as Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act teams as of June 1, 1999. They are located in Amarillo (Region 1), Fort Worth (Region 3), Austin (Region 7), and El Paso (Region 10). These sites represent a mixture of urban and rural communities, and reflect the broad range of issues encountered by CPS statewide. 

Structure

As required, the Citizen Review Team members are volunteers who represent a broad spectrum of their communities. The members are nominated locally and approved by the DFPS Commissioner. CPS state office staff provide assistance in the areas of coordination, team development, training, and statewide distribution of team reviews and recommendations. Local CPS staff facilitate the exchange of case-specific information, ensure that confidentiality is maintained, perform the required background checks on nominated members, and arrange for meeting space and clerical support. 

Reporting Process

To coincide with the federal reporting period, this report covers the period from October 2007 through September 2008. Information presented here consists of data gathered by the Citizen Review Teams. The teams utilize the Citizen Review Team Reporting form, a standardized form that was developed by CPS for the teams, put into use in April 2000, and modified to be user-friendlier in the automated environment in July 2003.

Agency Response

Citizen Review Team recommendations are placed on the DFPS website. In addition to the recommendations from the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Citizen Review Teams, recommendations and concerns expressed by other, non-Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act teams are also on the website. The web page for the recommendations contains a Citizen Review Team-specific mailbox that the public can use to comment on the recommendations. The webpage is located at http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Protection/CRT/.

State office program staff review Citizen Review Team recommendations and those recommendations are considered when developing CPS policy, training, and procedures. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Citizen Review Teams often have recommendations for the local CPS direct delivery staff regarding actions to be taken in a particular case. These case-specific recommendations are communicated during the Citizen Review Team meeting to the CPS representatives who are present and are recorded on the standardized report form. Actions on case-specific recommendations are addressed at the regional level.

Panel Activities

In the past few years, Texas Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Citizen Review Teams have not met as regularly as expected.  Efforts have been made to revitalize the teams. Efforts began in May 2006 with the first of several face-to-face and conference call meetings of the local Citizen Review Team Coordinators.  These coordinators are CPS staff assigned to this project, in addition to their other duties as CPS supervisors, program directors, program administrators, and program specialists. The Citizen Review Team Coordinators focused on local and statewide strategic planning, more frequent and regular meetings of active teams, and formation of new teams.

Efforts continued this year as the Citizen Review Team Coordinators continued to meet on a regular basis.  A handbook of resources and processes was developed to help the coordinators function in their capacity as team leaders.  Future plans include development of a Citizen Review Team brochure to enhance community participation and development of a Citizen Review Team member manual with forms, procedures and processes to help team members learn about the Citizen Review Teams.  As a result of this activity, Citizen Review Team meetings have become more consistent and regular.

The four Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Citizen Review Teams met as follows from October 2007 through September 2008:

  • Region 01 (Amarillo/Potter County) —  January 18, 2008, June 27, 2008, and August 29, 2008
  • Region 03 (Fort Worth/Tarrant County) —  October 29, 2007, November 12, 2007, May 1, 2008 and August 14, 2008
  • Region 07 (Austin/Travis County) —  January 23 2008, June 17, 2008, and August 13, 2008
  • Region 10 (El Paso/El Paso County) — October 16, 2007, January 29, 2008, and June 3, 2008

Efforts to revitalize the Citizen Review Teams were successful and all Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act teams succeeded in their goal of meeting the quarterly frequency mandate. 

Summary of Findings

The findings of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Citizen Review Teams that have statewide implications (as opposed to recommendations aimed at local procedures and issues) are summarized below.

Region 01 focused on child deaths.  Specifically, the team emphasized making debriefing sessions for caseworkers and supervisors mandatory if they have been involved in child death cases.  The team saw these cases as being extremely traumatic for them to review and believed working the cases would be even more traumatic for the staff involved. Working with the district attorney’s office ensures that any cases reviewed by the Citizen Review Team did not impact the criminal charges in any way.

Region 03 focused on development of their team and ensuring that the team understood the procedures, policy and processes of CPS.

Region 07 focused on conservatorship issues, especially related to youth who will be transitioning out of care. 

Specifically, the team determined:

  • Child placing agencies need to broaden their abilities to provide services to youth.
  • Workers need to be specialized to work with this population – how they work with these young adults can make the difference between success or failure once they leave the foster care system.
  • The support system of young adults needs to be broadened to encompass more than just their CPS worker.
  • More preparation is needed for Preparation for Adult Living programs for children that do not fall into the basic level of care. 

Recommendations made included:

  • Develop more independent living placmeents for children who are not basic level children.
  • Examine expectations in contracts for Child Placing Agencies specific to children aging out of care.
  • Provide training for staff regarding assessment of success of placements in helping children achieve positive outcomes.
  • Explore more specialization for case assignment of children growing up and aging out of care and for  teens in general.

Region 10 focused on cases where investigations had been completed and services were being provided to the families.

CPS Protection Initiatives

The following chart describes CPS actions that relate to Citizen Review Team-identified issues. Each initiative reflects CPS efforts to respond to and improve the quality of the services it provides to the children and families of Texas.

Region Issue Addressed Recommendation CPS Initiative
1 A P1 intake concerning serious physical abuse was not sent to the field for investigation for over six hours. 
The field then downgraded the case to a P2
Recommended that the intake should have been sent to the field as soon as it came in.
Recommendations that reasons for downgrading a case be thoroughly documented.
Recommended that the intake should have been sent to the field as soon as it came in.
In November 2007 new policy was sent to the field regarding P1 intakes that come into the call center between 10 PM and 8 AM.   “Effective December 1, 2007, Statewide Intake will no longer hold P-1 Intakes overnight. All P-1 Intakes processed between 10:00 PM, and 8:00 AM will be called out to regional on-call staff.” The CPS policy and procedures manual indicates that any change in priority on intakes must have clear documentation as to the reason for changing the priority.  Revisions in this section of policy are being updated to stress all the reasons for making such a change and the importance of documenting this change in a contact narrative.
3 Initial contact would have been better sooner but policy allows for contact within ten days if it is a P2 investigation Recommend earlier contact on investigations. As a result of Senate Bill 6, change in policy regarding response times for Priority 2 intakes was changed from within 10 days to within 72 hours. The change was implemented on August 1, 2007 as follows:
  • If a priority II reports involves victim children age six and older, the case is eligible to be screened.  There are different initiation timeframes for PII’s that fall within screening requirements and those that do not.  
  • Reports not screened – These reports must be responded to by initiating an investigation within 72 hours of the intake.
  • Reports screened – A screening assessment must be completed no later than 72 hours from the time of intake.  The screener will then stage progress the case.  The assigned investigator must initiate the investigation within 72 hours from the stage progression.
3 Staff shortage may have contributed to the investigation passing through several people Address issues that contribute to the turnover In January 2008, a statewide work committee was formed that has members from all areas of the state.  Individual workgroups were formed to address the follow areas:
  • Promote employee communication and input
  • Improve hiring practices
  • Strengthen supervision
  • Manage workloads
  • Enhance work environment
  • Value employees
In August 2007, retention efforts were started in Bexar County.  In FY 2008, turnover for CPS caseworkers decreased from 47.5% to 32.4%. Local retention efforts continue today in Bexar County.  Statewide efforts continue to address turnover and improve retention. In January 2009, the County Retention Pilot was expanded to include Tarrant County and Statewide Intake.
7 Concerns that voluntary placements are taking place without complete home studies Home studies should be completed on voluntary placements that are progressed to ongoing services
  • Updated policy on voluntary placements was instituted in January 2008.
  • Before allowing a parent to place a child outside of the home, the worker must conduct a safety check of the home in which the parents are placing the child by taking the following actions:
  • Secure a criminal history check on all adult members of the household where the child is to be placed. See 2234.43 Obtaining Criminal Background Checks for Voluntary Placements.
  • Complete an abuse or neglect background check on every member of the household in which the child is to be placed to determine whether anyone in the home has been involved in a previous report of child abuse or neglect. See 2234.44 Conducting Abuse/Neglect Background Checks for Voluntary Placements.
  • Visit the proposed caregiver’s home to assess the adequacy of the physical environment.
  • Interview the proposed caregiver to assess the potential safety of the child in the caregiver’s home and obtain the caregiver’s agreement to perform the following actions during the investigation:
    • Protect and care for the child
    • Work with CPS and the child’s family
  • Notify CPS immediately if the child’s parents move the child out of the caregiver’s home
7 Lack of knowledge about mental health services for mothers and Medicaid services. Recommend that staff  be trained on nurse/family programs for young mothers                     Medicaid training for staff Programs that CPS staff can refer clients to:
  • Texas Nurse-Family Partnership:
The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 156 in 2007 to provide an evidence-based nurse home visitation program.  The program is designed to improve the health and well-being of low-income, first-time parents and their children.  Texas is providing grant funding and support for Nurse Family Partnership sites throughout the state to serve close to 2,000 first-time mothers and their children
  • Medicaid Women’s Health Program:
The Medicaid Women’s Health Program provides low-income women with family planning exams, related health screenings and birth control through Texas Medicaid and Case Management for Children and Pregnant Women.
  • This program provides services to children with a health condition/health risk, birth through 20 years of age and to high-risk pregnant women of all ages, in order to encourage the use of cost-effective health and health-related care. Together, the case manager and family shall assess the medical, social, educational and other medically necessary service needs of the eligible recipient.
  DFPS is not the agency responsible for addressing Medicaid benefit issues for our clients.  We will work with Health and Human Services Commission who administers these programs to determine what information is available to the public to assist with understanding the application process.
7 Lack of drug testing that would have been helpful Develop policy/protocol regarding drug testing A statewide workgroup has been charged to develop new policy that will provide consistency across the state regarding drug testing protocol.  Their target date for completion is April 2010. Guidelines will be created that will provide staff with parameters for assessing the need for drug testing and referring clients to services. This group will also be discussing the revision of the “Substance Abuse Services” section of the CPS Handbook.
10 Law enforcement failed to follow through with legal actions on a serious case of Physical Abuse of 4 month old Improve law enforcement relationship to help address issues of safety Law Enforcement Liaison positions were created in FY 2007.  One of the most important tasks these positions have is to work with local law enforcement to improve their working relationship with CPS staff. They also are assigned to:
  • work in conjunction with the Regional Director and Program Administrator for Investigation to strengthen investigation practices for CPS workers 
  • work directly with local law enforcement offices to identify co-housing opportunities in conjunction with Family and Protective Service Program Support staff. 
  • develop and improves working relationships with CPS staff, courts and law enforcement.


Region Issue Addressed Recommendation CPS Initiative
1 Obtaining an Interstate Compact for Placement of Children  home study from another state takes excessively long Agreements need to be developed between the states to complete studies within reasonable timeframes. The Safe and Timely Interstate Placement of Foster Children Act of 2006 addresses the timeliness of home studies.   The Act mandates that a State has 60 days from the date the request is received to conduct the study and return it to the requesting state.  Although the federal regulations did not provide details, the Interstate Compact for Placement of Children across the nation have determined that they will use calendar days when calculating the 60 days. In addition, Texas has put additional processes in place to ensure they meet the 60 day deadline.  The Interstate Compact for Placement of Children staff meet via conference call on a quarterly basis to ensure continued compliance.  The Interstate Compact for Placement of Children staff have also put a system into place using electronic passage of material.  Home study requests are scanned in and sent to the regional coordinator within 24 hours of being received at State Office.  The regional coordinator then assigns the study for completion.  On the 55th day, the regional coordinator scans in the completed study and returns it to State Office who then forwards it to the requesting state.
1 Working Child death cases is traumatic for the workers and supervisors involved In excessively difficult child death cases, de-briefing, crisis intervention services should be mandatory for all staff involved. Debriefing and crises intervention services are not generally offered in a mandatory capacity.  However, CPS does contract with a crises counseling agency.  Supervisors and Program Directors are able to bring services directly to their staff within a very short timeframe when necessary.  In addition, CPS does have an employee assistance program for staff experiencing stress, anxiety, depression or other issues.  Employee Assistance Program services include short term assessments, counseling, prevention /education, crisis intervention, and referrals to long term services as needed. 
7 Drug testing does not appear to be consistent in cases nor does there appear to be any agency policy to guide caseworkers in this area. Consistent policies regarding drug testing are needed.  Staff may not always know how and when to drug test, particularly in cases where parents admit to some drug use. DFPS currently does not have policies specifying which clients need to be drug tested.  However, there are Best Practices being used in most areas that indicate a person’s admission of using a particular drug may not always be accurate and they may be underreporting.  In these instances, testing is generally appropriate.  DFPS is considering developing policies in the future – the agencies challenge is balancing resources with policy.
7 Cases where there have been multiple referrals are not always recognized as being critical. Assign multiple referral cases to tenured workers.  Identify those with children under age 5 and monitor them carefully. Intake screening protocols were developed in May 2006 that indicate that if a case is already opened and another referral is received, the case goes directly to an investigator.  In August 2007, the agency adopted a maximum response time of 72 hours. Cases involving children under 3 years of age and involved in a multiple referral are reviewed by a Child Safety Specialist prior to the case being closed.  A supervisor must also review the case.  In May of 2007, a real time identification of cases that meet multiple referral review criteria was rolled out in IMPACT.  This allows a Child Safety Specialist to be assigned to review the case as early in the case as possible – generally right after the case is progressed to an investigation.
7 Low cost or free legal services are needed for relatives seeking custody of children who cannot live with their parents. Exploration and development of resources. CPS Kinship care program has been recently expanded due to CPS Reform.  The expansion included additional monetary resources for relatives, asset management, legal advocacy, training for caregivers of special needs children, and support groups.  Kinship providers are now given $1,000 as a one time benefit and may receive $500 per child per year.  This money can be used for legal services or other needs.  Families are also referred to their local Legal Aid, local attorney referral service or Legal Hotline for Texas to assist them with locating an affordable attorney.

Conclusion

The Citizen Review Teams are an important component as DFPS continues to improve outcomes and services for children, youth and families involved in the Texas child welfare system. Members voluntarily take time to review the cases with care, always upholding the high standards of the agency. By considering innovative ways the community can work together with CPS for child protection, members have shown that improvement of the system is needed and possible. The issues identified and recommendations made by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Citizen Review Teams are critical to identifying opportunities for statewide improvements in CPS policy, practice and training.