Texas' Child Protective Services system is undergoing a major overhaul and its shedding more light on challenges caseworkers are facing.
This summer, CPS announced a plan to improve the agency, which includes revamping top leadership and now, half of the state's regional offices are without directors. Five have stepped down including El Paso's Director Diana Barajas. The agency's spokesman says she had already planned to retire.
The overhaul is shedding light on the continuing problems the state of Texas faces. Rep. Joe Moody tells Abc-7, "we are in a crisis" and the overhaul plan isn't doing enough to address the root of the problem. Rep. Moody says ow pay and extreme caseloads are some of the challenges getting in the way of caseworkers doing their jobs.
"For every case that you find that something went wrong, there are thousands that went right but we never hear about those," Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez said.
Judge Gutierrez handles child abuse cases every day. She says caseworkers have a lot on their plate.
"They need to one have more caseworkers, two, pay them more, because it's a hard job, and it's a thankless job Many caseworkers feel why do I put up with this if I can go someplace else and make more money and not have to deal with this pressure and this stress. So I think if you paid them more and if we had more resources from the state where they could have a smaller caseload and focus on the cases they do have," Judge Gutierrez said.
The numbers are staggering. Last year there were 228,000 reports of child abuse statewide. In El Paso, there were 5,900. There were 176,868 investigations across the state and 4,900 in El Paso. A total 229 children are now in foster care.
A spokesman for the Department of Family Protective Services tells Abc-7, caseworkers have a difficult job and are challenged by working with families that are uncooperative and also work with families that don't show up to scheduled court dates. It's even trickier by the border, where families commute to New Mexico and Mexico--where they don't have jurisdiction.
Numbers show El Paso's caseworkers have fewer investigations than elsewhere around the state. They average about 13 cases, while anything above 20 is considered too high.
"Not only is there huge demand because of the number of outcries they see, but very rigorous procedures that help guide them into how to do investigations and faces placements," Beth Singer with the El Paso Center for Children said.
Singer works directly with CPS. She says while there are issues, caseworkers do what they can.
"So it's a very challenging system to navigate themselves and certainly feel cumbersome to people on the outside who have never had to be a part of it," Singer said.
Zimmerman says candidates for the El Paso director's job have been interviewed. Senator Jose Rodriguez's office confirms with Abc-7 she has been hired, though that name has not been released yet.