Wednesday, August 6, 2008

CPS criticized for lax employee screening

Associated Press
State lawmakers, irked that Child Protective Services doesn't run regular criminal background checks on the vast majority of its employees, say they'll file legislation requiring routine checks.
The lax screening came to light after lawmakers learned of a CPS supervisor's assault conviction and an indecent exposure charge against a caseworker
"The technology has reached the point where there is simply no excuse for people with serious crimes falling through the cracks of our background checks," Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said in a story Friday in The Dallas Morning News.
Nelson, the Senate's chief social services policy writer, said the state should run FBI fingerprint checks of all new employees who work directly with vulnerable Texans. Lawmakers adopted a law last year that requires such background checks for public school teachers.
Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, the House's point man for human services programs, criticized CPS' current policy of running Texas background checks on virtually all the people it hires and then rechecking each year for only 250 of its more than 6,600 "direct care delivery" staff.
CPS officials said they would consider changes.
"We are very carefully reviewing our background check policies and will certainly make any adjustments necessary to strengthen those policies," said CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins.
CPS performs annual checks, using a Department of Public Safety criminal history database, of its 250 "foster/adoption development" workers. They recruit and train about one quarter of the state's foster parents.
But there are no follow ups on about 2,000 child-abuse investigators, 1,600 "conservatorship workers" who work with children removed from their birth families and 750 "family-based safety services workers" who try to stabilize troubled families.
CPS simply mandates they report to supervisors any brushes they have with the law: arrests, indictments and court dispositions involving criminal offenses.
"Clearly, relying on self-reporting is not prudent," Rose said. "I don't think it takes the adequate precautions we need for the safety of our children."
The lawmakers said they'll file legislation to fix the problem next session, which begins in January.
Late Wednesday, KEYE-TV in Austin reported that of more than 9,000 employees at CPS and its parent agency, the Department of Family and Protective Services, some 370 had criminal convictions. Most were for driving under the influence and writing hot checks.
Those offenses aren't a bar to being hired for state protective services work, Crimmins said.
The report said a CPS supervisor in El Paso pleaded guilty to assault with bodily injury to one of his family members and violation of a protective order. Crimmins said the supervisor, following CPS policy, reported his arrest to supervisors.
Also, an Austin child-abuse investigator was arrested in 1998, a year after he was hired by CPS, for indecent exposure in a public park, The employee later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct and paid a $500 fine, KEYE said.
Nelson and Rose say they support FBI fingerprint checks, which cost about $44 each, of all prospective state workers dealing with sensitive populations.
CPS only uses the FBI's national database to check on job applicants who haven't lived in Texas for at least three years.
Rose also said that at a minimum, there should be annual criminal background checks by DPS of all CPS direct care staff. Those checks, which involve running a name through a computer, cost $1 each.
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