Status Report as of September 2001
Program Purpose | Background | Structure | Reporting Process | Agency Response | Panel Activities | Summary Of Findings | Policy Issues | Intake and Initial Response | Investigations | Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS) | Substitute Care | Factors Affecting Protection | Internal and External Factors CPS Actions Related to CRT Issues | Safety Issues | Permanency Issues | Training Issues | Conclusion
This report provides a summary of the activities by the Texas Citizen Review Teams from October 2000 to September 2001. It is submitted as required by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), Section 106 "Grants to States for Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and Treatment Programs" [42 U.S.C. 5106a]. This information was included in the Title IV-B Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP) for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
There are multiple Citizen Review Teams (CRTs) as established by Texas Family Code (TFC §261.312). Four of these teams are designated as meeting the requirements of CAPTA, Appendix I. This report consists of information concerning the issues addressed only by the four CAPTA teams (CRT/CAPTA). All four teams were incorporated as CAPTA teams as of June 1, 1999. They are located in El Paso (Region 10), Amarillo (Region 01), Fort Worth (Region 03), and Austin (Region 07). These sites represent a mixture of urban and rural communities, and reflect the broad range of issues encountered by Child Protective Services (CPS) statewide.
As required, the CRT/CAPTA team members are volunteers who represent a broad spectrum of their communities. The members are nominated locally and approved by the Executive Director of DFPS, Thomas Chapmond. CPS state office staff provide assistance in the areas of coordination, team development, training, and statewide distribution of team reviews and recommendations. Local CPS staff facilitate the exchange of case-specific information, ensure that confidentiality is maintained, perform the required background checks on nominated members, and arrange for meeting space and clerical support.
To coincide with the federal fiscal year reporting period, this report covers the period from October 2000 to September 2001. Information that is presented consists of data gathered by the CRT/CAPTA teams. Each team utilized the Citizen Review Team Reporting form, a standardized form that was developed by CPS state office for the teams and put into use in April 2000.
In order to ensure a statewide forum for the CRT/CAPTA recommendations, the state Child Safety Review Committee (CSRC) reviews CRT/CAPTA recommendations to identify statewide implications for CPS policy, practice, and training. The CRSC was established in 1999 to consider policy implications resulting from an internal review of child fatalities. The CSRC meets quarterly and has representatives from the professional development division, child-care licensing, legal department, statewide intake, risk directors, regional program administrators, the Texas Council on Family Violence, and CPS state office.
The state CRT coordinator compiles an ongoing report listing the CRT/CAPTA recommendations and any action items identified by the CSRC. This report is used by the CSRC to record progress on agency initiatives related to CRT/CAPTA recommendations. Regional CPS program administrators review updates to this report at statewide program administrator meetings on a regular basis. The CPS program administrators then distribute the report to regional CPS staff.
The CRT/CAPTA teams often have recommendations for the local CPS field staff about actions they would like to see taken in a particular case. These case-specific recommendations are communicated during the CRT meeting to the CPS representatives who are present, and are recorded on the standardized report form. Actions on case-specific recommendations are handled at the regional level.
The four CRT/CAPTA teams submitted information utilizing the Citizen Review Team Reporting forms for cases reviewed during the following meetings through September 2001:
- Region 01 (Amarillo/Potter County) - November 2000, April 2001, September 2001.
- Region 03 (Fort Worth/Tarrant County) - November 2000, January 2001, June 2001, September 2001.
- Region 07 (Austin/Travis County) - October 2000, January 2001, May 2001, July 2001.
- Region 10 (El Paso/El Paso County) - November 2000, December 2000, February 2001, July 2001.
- The four CRT/CAPTA teams reviewed a total of 14 cases. During
this reporting period, the teams reviewed the following stages
of services within the 14 cases:
- 2 Intakes,
- 14 Investigations (one near-death),
- 5 Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS), and
- 5 Substitute Care.
Summary of Findings
The following information is organized according to the formatting structure of the Citizen Review Team Reporting Form that is designed to cover Intake, Investigations, Family-Based Safety Services, and Substitute Care issues.
Intake and Initial Response
Both cases that were reviewed show that the processes and procedures for receiving, assessing, and screening reports for adequate determination of how quickly CPS must respond were appropriately conducted. However in 1 case, documentation indicates that there was a delay in making contact within the required 10-day period. An area identified by the team as being in need of improvement is:
- Completing documentation of attempted contacts that took place.
In the 14 investigations reviewed, all agency policies were appropriately followed. Teams recognized investigative worker efforts in the areas of interviewing, making collateral contacts, and conducting risk assessments, and a few teams identified outstanding documentation efforts by investigators in some of the cases. However, the following are specific examples of areas requiring improvement:
- Number of collateral contacts conducted during an investigation could be increased;
- Efforts could be made to research previous abuse and neglect history particularly if the child and family are from out of state;
- Communication with medical professionals could be enhanced to increase accurate risk assessment; and
- Efforts could be made to access all available medical records to make more accurate risk assessments.
Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS)
The 5 FBSS stages that were reviewed indicate that all agency policies were adequately followed in the areas of home visits, interviews, collateral contacts, and risk assessment. In one of the 5 FBSS cases reviewed, the team expressed concern regarding the safety of surviving children still in a home receiving family-based services after a child death occurred. However, it was noted that increased involvement by a caseworker functions as a safeguard.
The 5 substitute care stages that were reviewed indicate that all agency policies were adequately followed. In one case, the team recognized excellent communication efforts with medical personnel by the CPS caseworker in a case in which a child was in the temporary conservatorship of CPS while hospitalized. As a result, the child's medical needs were well attended to while the child was in substitute care.
Factors Affecting Protection Efforts By DFPS
The CPS/CAPTA teams identified the internal and external factors that may have affected the department's ability to protect the child. Each factor is presented as it relates to the goals of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). These goals include establishing safety, permanency, and well-being for children in contact with the child welfare system at the Investigation, Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS), or Conservatorship (CVS) stage.
- Safety refers to keeping children protected from abuse and neglect and safely maintained in their home whenever possible.
- Permanency refers to children having stability in their living situation, which involves the number and duration of placements. It also refers to preserving the continuity of family relationships and connections.
- Well-being refers to families having the enhanced capacity to provide for their children's needs.
The following chart describes CPS actions that relate to current and previous CRT issues. Each one of these initiatives reflects CPS's efforts to respond to and improve the quality of the services it provides to the children and families of Texas.
Internal and External Factors CPS Actions Related to CRT Issues
Delayed autopsy reports put the alleged perpetrator's (AP) remaining children at risk when a lack of evidence led a court to determine, because of lack of criminal prosecution, that there was no reason for the AP not to return to his home. CPS policy has been rewritten to reflect the requirements of Texas Family Code §§264.513 and 264.514 requiring immediate reporting of the death of a child younger than six years of age to the medical examiner.
Delayed criminal background checks reduce effectiveness of risk assessments. CPS developed and distributed policy regarding criminal background checks during investigations in April 2002.
The court is presented with diverse, sometimes contradictory, recommendations by CPS caseworkers, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), attorneys ad-litem, parents' attorneys, therapists, and others testifying in the child's best interest. To promote effective communication among the parties involved, the judiciary in coordination with CASA, prosecutors, and DFPS officials developed Cluster Courts (13) to ensure that all of the child's representatives are thoroughly informed about their respective cases. CPS cases are handled exclusively utilizing a traveling judge who hears cases in a cluster of counties. The cluster court judges thus develop expertise regarding the types of recommendations made, the duties and requirements of CPS, and the perspective of the various parties. DFPS is actively encouraging further development of cluster courts throughout the state.In larger jurisdictions, there are often family court judges who specialize in hearing CPS cases and who also develop the expertise described above.
DFPS's Court Improvement Project (CIP) is working with the Children's Justice Act (a federal grant administered concurrently with CIP) to initiate mediation of CPS cases in a number of cluster courts. Mediation helps parents feel that the agency and other legal stakeholders consider their issues and positions.
Conflicting opinions or ambiguous diagnoses among medical professionals require caseworkers to be able to advocate for collaboration and consensus. CPS's Court Improvement Project is working with the Texas Center for the Judiciary on planning a multidisciplinary conference in 2003 that will bring together judges, CPS staff, CASA, medical personnel, and other representatives from child welfare to interact and improve professional relationships.
Court-ordered placements that are against the recommendation of CPS require the department to continue to work closely with the family and monitor the child's safety in a situation that CPS believes is not amenable to this type of intervention. CPS has formulated a plan to evaluate risk assessment in the family preservation and family reunification stages of service. Part of this evaluation is to determine the risk factors that are specific to cases in which CPS provides services after the investigation. The current risk assessment used in all stages was developed from studies of cases in the investigation stage. Development of risk criteria and of a tool specific to risk in ongoing stages will aid CPS staff in presenting issues to the court regarding safety concerns when considering placement and services aimed at enhancing safety over longer periods of time.
Media involvement generates public opposition to the department's recommendations. DFPS state and regional public information officers continue to work with the media to provide accurate report of DFPS actions and decisions.
Well-Being IssuesPoor coordination between school officials and families hinders access to services to meet the children's educational needs. CPS is developing specialized staff within each region to assist caseworkers with enhancing children's well-being in the areas of special education services and developmental disabilities. There will be a total of 16 staff across the state to work with caseworkers to better assess and meet the needs of children who require special education services, to assist children who have developmental disabilities to move to the least restrictive placement setting appropriate, and to ensure that all services available to children are considered.
Cultural issues related to immigration, including the families' lack of familiarity with available services in the United States, hinders access to those services. CPS developed cultural diversity training, Building Bridges, to strengthen the cultural competency of its workers. In addition, DFPS and El Desarrollo Integral de la Family (DIF) have agreed to work together to provide services spanning the border to deal with cases of overlapping responsibility in cities along the Texas-Mexico border.
Improved use of CPS records and criminal history information to conduct risk assessments Tarrant County's CRT and its county commissioners created two research positions to assist CPS caseworkers in completing thorough reviews of prior CPS involvement, criminal history, and diligent searches for the families that move. CPS caseworkers have more time to work directly with families and have the information required to make more accurate assessments.In addition, CPS staff statewide effectively share information through the use of the DFPS intranet, including access to the risk assessment tool.
Clarification about when to conduct a criminal background check for a person with an unknown role to determine whether there is a need to identify the person as an alleged perpetrator. CPS updated its policy handbook in April 2002 to indicate when a criminal background check should be conducted on every adult who resides in the alleged victim's home.
The CRTs are an important component in the department's attempt to improve Texas' child protective system. Members voluntarily take time to review the cases with care, always upholding the high standards of the agency. By considering innovative ways the community can work together for child protection, members have shown that improvement in the system is possible and needed. The issues identified and recommendations made by the CAPTA/CRT teams are critical to identifying statewide implications for CPS policy, practice, and training for continuous quality enhancement.