Right now hundreds of kids in foster care across Texas who don't have a safe placement are sleeping in offices, hotels, churches and other donated spaces. Social workers, case managers and other employees from the DFPS are being asked to take on child watch shifts to care for them.
A former CPS worker sat down with NBC 5 to share why the stress is pushing tenured workers to leave their jobs.
“I just felt this calling like, kids don't have people who can speak up for them,” Katie Campbell said.
Katie Campbell says she was in college when she committed to being an advocate for children. But after 11 years with the state and seven with Child Protective Services, she walked away from the job she loved over the summer.
News from around the state of Texas.
“We're past a crisis point where we have tenured workers like myself who have this calling who have been passionate about their roles in the child welfare arena, are leaving, because it is too much because we don't feel supported because we don't feel like we can breathe,” Campbell said.
Campbell says she noticed a shift in late 2019. Over the last two years, state workers have seen several factors impact the number of children without placement, including the closure of several residential facilities and more heightened state monitoring which took thousands of beds offline.
Those changes led to a rise in the number of youth who need specialized care, who no longer had a place to go. And it also left DFPS workers to supervise them on child watch shifts.
“You were expected to be supervising the kids. Medication administration making sure they had their meds,”
“Are these things that you felt equipped to do?,” NBC 5 Anchor Brittney Johnson asked.
“No, not really,” said Campbell.
A spokesperson for DFPS told NBC 5 the child watch shifts vary by day and region. But some workers are asked to take on as many as six, six-hour shifts or 36 hours per month, in addition to their regular workload.
“You've got kids who fight and you've got kids who cuss you out. You've got kids who try to assault you and, you know, kids who try to run and, and so there's just the emotional draining aspect of it,” Campbell said.
Campell says she kept pushing through until she realized the impact on her own children.
“I mean, I will always remember this moment. My littlest one, he's four-and-a-half. He said, mommy, do you have to go back to work? And I said, no, baby tonight I don't. And he just started celebrating. Mommy doesn't have to come back to work. Mommy will be here. I just, my heart sunk because I felt like I have poured so many years of my life into, you know, working with these families and for these kids. But it almost was like, I didn't see the kids right in front of me that were in my home."
Another state worker representing the Texas State Employees Union addressed lawmakers at a hearing in October, sharing more examples of the personal toll the crisis is having on longtime workers.
“We had caseworkers who told us that their family just was suffering,” said Angela Costen, Founder of 'For the Sake of One.'
Angela Costen’s nonprofit sends out monthly gifts to caseworkers. She started seeing a disturbing trend.
“Every month, the supervisor would tell us 'take these three people off of the list because they quit, take these two people off because they quit,'” Costen said. “If there are not people working to check on these families, we are worried about kids that are going to be in abusive homes or neglectful homes.”
Costen and Campell want the state to hire more people with special training to care for youth with higher needs.
“I just don't think people know that this crisis is going on within CPS,” Campbell said.
Now she's using her voice to advocate for better conditions and more support for employees who are still there.
“We have these kids and they need placement. And then we have these workers who need relief,” said Campbell.
This excerpt from a department report in September shows the scope of concerns workers have over stress, safety and lack of training.
"Between February and July 2021, DFPS hired 319 CVS caseworkers. During the same time period, 309 CVS caseworkers terminated their employment. According to exit surveys CVS caseworkers submitted during 2021, 86% cited work-related stress as a reason for terminating their employment (up from 40% in 2020); 43% cited safety concerns (up from 23% in 2020) and 35% cited inadequate training (up from 14% in 2020). As of September 8, 2021, there were 236 CVS caseworker vacancies."
You can read the full report here.
DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters sent the following statement addressing employee's concerns.
"The number one message from the commissioner is I hear you and CWOP is and has been my number one priority. We have to fix this for the children and youth in care, obviously, but also for our employees who are literally working 24 hours a day to staff CWOP."
DFPS shared an update on efforts to remedy the CWOP crisis. In the 87th Regular and Special Session Legislators appropriated $123 million to help expand capacity and programs.
There are ways you can help faith-based groups and other organizations that support caseworkers and children in care. Learn more below:
Here are other ways the community can help:
Learn more about becoming a licensed foster/adoptive parent www.adoptchildren.org
Mentor foster youth http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Community/volunteer/Opportunities/mentor.asp
Donate to the rainbow room: https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Protection/Rainbow_Rooms/default.asp