By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
Earlier this month, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) released its 2017 Interactive Data Book. The Data Book contains key statistics on child abuse and neglect in Texas, as well as information on the Child Protective Services (CPS) workforce. Let’s delve into some of the highlights.
- 295,485 reports of child abuse and neglect were made to DFPS, up 2.1 percent from 2016.
- DFPS completed 174,740 investigations of child abuse or neglect, 4.8 percent more than last year.
- 63,657 children were confirmed to be victims, a staggering 8.5-percent increase from 2016.
- 19,782 children – 54 children per day – were removed from home and placed in substitute care. This is a 4.2-percent increase from the previous year.
- A total of 50,293 children were in DFPS custody during the year, another increase from last year’s total of 48,795.
Compared to the previous year, we are seeing more abuse and neglect reports, more investigations, more removals, and overall, more children in state care. While these trends seem daunting, the 2017 data also suggests what could be the beginning of promising improvements when it comes to the CPS workforce. Investigative caseworkers saw a 15-percent decrease in caseloads for 2017, averaging at 14.5. There was also a 4-percent increase in the number of children seen in a timely manner by investigators. Caseloads for Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS) and Conservatorship workers dropped as well, averaging at 15.1 and 27.8, respectively.
Ultimately, what this data shows is that more children are entering the system, but collectively, the state is stepping up to improve the system to meet the needs of these children, and this change is starting at the top. Prior to and during the 2017 Legislative Session, state leadership and lawmakers took meaningful steps to improve the system and better protect children confirmed as being abused or neglected. With increased funding from the state, DFPS set to work strengthening its ranks, and the data shows significant steps in the right direction.
We, the CASA network, are also working to rise up and meet the growing needs of children in care. Last year, the 71 CASA programs in Texas recruited a milestone total of 10,424 CASA volunteers to advocate for 29,747 children. This was a 14-percent increase in volunteers recruited, and nearly double the growth rate from the previous year.
More children may be entering the system, but I take heart in the fact that at the same time, more and more people are stepping up to give these children a voice. The dedication of the CASA network – the CASA volunteers, staff and board members across the state – is an unstoppable force that is sweeping our communities.
This movement is contagious, and if our growth numbers are any indication, we are just getting started. Leading this charge are the local CASA programs, the boots on the ground, who are working to spread the message of the CASA difference far and wide. Giving them the tools and resources they need to amplify this message is where Texas CASA comes in.
On Feb. 8-9, we brought together CASA volunteer recruiters from CASA programs across the state for the second Volunteer Power Unleashed Summit. This interactive, first-of-its-kind gathering is the only CASA event nationwide that is targeted specifically towards recruiters. Recruiters from all across the state, and a group from North Carolina, came together to learn new approaches to recruitment and share strategies from their own programs.
The theme of the event was “Together We Can. Together We Will.” – because none of us can achieve our goal of a CASA volunteer for every child alone. It takes a village; a unified network with a shared passion and vision.
Events like our Volunteer Power Unleashed Summit are helping the CASA network recruit more volunteers than ever before to advocate for children. But growing is only half the battle – we must also ensure that we are growing intentionally: continuing to stay at the forefront of the biggest challenges facing the system, and recruiting and training quality volunteers to ensure the best possible advocacy for these children.
While progress is being made, there is still much to be done at every level. The CASA movement has never been more vital. We must continue to gain momentum, and continue to lead the charge until our vision of a safe, positive future for all Texas children is achieved. It will take time, yet we will get there, because Texas CASA and the CASA network will not stop pushing for the change our children need.
Together, we can and will accomplish amazing things for Texas’ most vulnerable children – I know this to be true because we already have. Thank you for all that you have done and will continue to do for our growing movement.
If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit BecomeACASA.org to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.