AUSTIN, Texas – There was some good news out of a House hearing Wednesday on the state of Texas' embattled foster care system.
The head of the Texas Department of Family and Protective services said staff turnover is at a new low and foster kids are finally receiving more immediate attention. The update comes more than a year after the agency received millions in emergency funding.
DFPS previously had trouble keeping caseworkers, and continually lost track of critically-endangered foster children.
Now, agency leaders say things are looking up.
"Caseworkers in the field tell me that they feel like they have the time to do their job and do it well," said DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman.
According to the Legislative Budget Board, the emergency funding cost the state $142 million, allowing DFPS to provide raises to its foster care caseworkers and hire more than 550 new front-line staff members.
Tuesday, lawmakers credited Whitman with bringing the agency back from the brink as he testified before a House subcommittee.
"You have just done an amazing job," said Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston).
But some experts say there's still work to be done.
"I'd give them sort of between a B and a B+ I think," said Will Francis, Government Relations Director of the National Association of Social Workers, Texas.
Francis said DFPS hasn't invested enough in prevention measures to keep children out of the foster care system altogether.
"So that actually parents who maybe if we've identified some type of abuse or neglect don't have kids who come into the system. Or even better, communities are able to receive supportive resources so that we never even get a child abuse to neglect call in the first place," Francis said.
Meanwhile, DFPS also scored a legal win Wednesday. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today in the state's favor. The judges say DFPS doesn't immediately have to follow a federal judge's order to make changes to the foster care system.
The case will be argued on April 30, as the state fights a years-long class-action lawsuit that alleges the state violated the constitutional rights of foster children.