Show me the Money: the effects of child protective services running on empty

I know- it is an intense topic. But I’ve worked the field and I’ve seen the reality of a program that is struggling to survive on pennies and dimes, with the workers trying desperately to make up for its financial short comings.

Almost any job has the potential to be stressful, there can be an unpredictability or a moment of uncertainty in any field. Of course there are extremes in some career positions more than others, one being social work (for obvious reasons). 

Unfortunately, a large portion of this stress originates from unrealistic case loads (upwards of double or triple the state recommended loads) and the government not allotting enough resources even though it is direly needed, and workers have an average 2 year employment rate in some offices.

The National Child Abuse Coalition has claimed the following on their website:

“With federal support, Child Protection Services can protect children from domestic abuse. The abuse of children in the home remains a serious public health problem in the United States. Unfortunately, funding does not match the need, and CPS case workers with enormous caseloads cannot make good decisions” (2012).

That is a scary sentence. That was also five years ago, and it appears that there hasn’t been much change since.

The National Child Abuse Coalition reported that current spending for CPS and preventative services falls short of the dollars invested in supporting the placement of children in foster care and adoptive families. For every dollar spent by the federal government, just 14 cents are spent on both prevention and protective services (2012).

The same website claimed that CAPTA (Child Abuse and Prevention Act) should be the main source for funding for state grants, but it is not. Right now, they allot $27 million, which is not up to addressing the scope of the need. The National Child Abuse Coalition believes that an annual authorized funding level of $500 million is a realistic approach for funding CPS (2012). Do the math: that is a difference of $473 million dollars. Yet, somehow, the agency is running on a drastically reduced number. How is this possible? Through paying social workers low wages and assigning high caseloads. Somewhere, they have to reduce funds and that is where it falls. The question is, what is the fallout from the lack of funding? And where is the money going?

An analysis of cases by Dallas Morning News showed that hundreds of potentially endangered children did not receive a timely visit from a CPS worker. They found that one in every 5 open cases, children were not being seen at all. The article stated,

“Problems with CPS’ dysfunctional system are not new: A shortage of caseworkers means high caseloads, and the pay is so low that caseworkers quit in droves, leaving hundreds of unfilled positions, plus extra time it takes to train new hires” (CPS Needs Emergency Money, 2016).

We know that more money is needed, but the question is where from, and are people willing to front the bill?

Per the Committee on Child Maltreatment Research, Policy, and Practice for the Next Decade, CAPTA’s grant community supports a wide range of activities involving CPS. However, to achieve CAPTA funding to support CPS, states must comply with congressionally mandated eligibility conditions. As of 2014, of these 20 requirements there has been little to no investment in studying how these requirements are best implemented (2014). Essentially, they have requirements that are not being met, funding isn’t being dispersed, and they do not know if the requirements are what they should be.

When I was a foster parent trainer for CPS, we discussed how only two states have met federal requirements to receive the total funding during the recent national audit, one being my state. If a state doesn’t meet certain criteria, they lose funding. For instance, children should not be in the system, according to federal mandates (and the subsequent funding) for more than two years. This is a positive goal, of course, we want children to have permanency whether it be with the rehabilitated biological parents or adopted by a foster parent. However, on average, children stay in the system for almost 31 months before being reunited or adopted. Almost 20% wait five years or more (ABC News, 2006). In the last few years, statistics haven’t changed. With these cases, the state loses millions of dollars. There are so few workers, that reports are almost impossible to complete in a timely manner. Not only that, but on a national level there are not enough foster parents to fulfill the need of children coming in. It’s a viscous cycle. Most of the issues come down to funding: the more money we put into the system, the faster children would be adopted, the faster children would be seen by a worker, therefore saving the state thousands of dollars.

It begins with money, which is exceptionally frustrating, yet social workers become the target for many of the issues with CPS. This is why I feel that the government is essentially forcing the problem, they are negligent in the amount of money allotted to CPS and it is failing. The entire program needs emergent help in the way of dollar signs and government support, but where do we start?