Op-Ed: On the frontlines protecting children during the pandemic

Published 12:30 am Saturday, July 18, 2020

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DFPS Commissioner Jamie Masters

Eight months ago, as I drove south from my home in Kansas City and crossed the Oklahoma border, a wide-open Texas lay ahead, a new home for me and my family. But as I began my role as Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), I could not have known then what would come.

By now, I’ve been asked countless times how the children and families we serve have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, they have been affected, both noticeably and in ways not yet seen or known. How we decide to help the children and vulnerable elderly has staggering consequences for our state’s future.

We have all seen the frontline warriors on our screens: nurses, respiratory therapists, paramedics, doctors, surgeons, nurses’ aides, all fighting to help their fellow Texans and ultimately save lives. They are working day and night, and we are fortunate to have them on our side.

As the pandemic spread into Texas our agency’s mission – already among the toughest jobs in Texas – took on more urgency.

If you work at DFPS, the job brings daily responsibilities and opportunities to help those in need.

Like our colleagues in the health care field, and first responders everywhere, the job is tough enough. As our employees reach out to protect others, try to blunt and possibly mend horrific trauma, they often experience the effects of stress and its emotional toll.

Each day, our employees leave the safety of their own homes, get outfitted in PPE, and spend hours upon hours going into homes to visit families.

This happens day after day, our employees stretching their own limits to go beyond the job and serve their fellow Texans during this time of extreme stress and trauma. It’s the CPS worker who makes sure a struggling mother doesn’t run out of diapers, or caseworkers who take the time to learn from teenagers about the trauma they have endured from trafficking; or the APS worker who not only protects an elderly Texan from financial hardship, but ensures family supports exist and daily medications are in place.

These selfless acts are sometimes lost amidst the challenges and tragedies that our employees face every day.

We must also recognize our private provider partners: these networks of men and women, foster parents and others who provide daily care for foster children and older youth. They’ve been on the front lines too, working with our caseworkers to ensure that children in care are safe and can keep in touch, virtually, with their biological parents as often as possible.

As you reflect on these difficult and historic times, please remember our employees who join first responders on the front lines, day after day, night after night. They play a crucial role in Texas’ response to this pandemic and will continue to protect and serve vulnerable Texans from COVID-19 and every other challenge we face.

It is a truism of this era that many workers are heroic just for going to work. I couldn’t agree more, particularly among our frontline caseworkers and investigators here at DFPS.

I am proud and honored to serve with them.

DFPS Commissioner Jamie Masters was only on the job a few months when the pandemic hit, and has remained focused on the agency’s mission of Protecting the Unprotected while helping its employees carry out this mission effectively and safely. DFPS caseworkers have continued to be on the front lines going into homes and protecting the citizens of communities throughout the State of Texas.