The following content provided by Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA CEO
In his January State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott elevated the reform of the child protection system as his No. 1 emergency item.
This occurred against the backdrop of U.S. District Judge Janice Graham Jack's 2015 ruling that Texas’ foster care system violated children’s constitutional right to be “free from an unreasonable risk of harm.” Media scrutiny also revealed major problems with Child protective Services, such as children sleeping in hotels and CPS offices due to placement shortages.
Our system was in crisis; with high turnover and high caseloads, the foundation was crumbling as children slipped through the gaps. Under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, the Legislature took significant steps toward filling these gaps and began the process of re-laying a solid foundation to build on in the coming sessions.
As a result of new legislation and additional appropriations, substantive changes championed by Texas CASA and other child advocates were enacted, including measures to consolidate all investigations under CPS regardless of whether children live in foster care facilities or with families; increase foster care and kinship capacity; increase caseworker pay and lower caseloads; and enact structural changes to the Department of Family and Protective Services to help it operate with more flexibility, and ensure all reports of abuse and neglect are investigated in a thorough, consistent and timely manner.
By session’s end, significant reforms reached the governor’s desk, including a $508.5 million funding increase for DFPS. This substantial increase comes during an otherwise austere budget cycle — highlighting how dedicated the Legislature was to making child welfare reform a priority.
Already, the CPS workforce has begun to stabilize, thanks to Sen. Jane Nelson and other state leaders. With their leadership, caseworkers received a much-needed pay raise in December that, along with increased staffing to lower caseloads, has led to improved child protection.
Lawmakers also turned their attention to addressing the need for more foster homes. Currently, about 60 percent of children are placed outside their home counties. With an investment of $95 million toward payment increases to foster care providers and an expansion of foster care redesign, lawmakers hope to bolster the number and quality of providers, and improve the chances of children being placed closer to their home and families.
The expansion of foster care redesign, now called “community-based care,” also aims to keep children closer to home, reduce the number of times a child changes placements, and ensure children and families have access to supports and services in each community.
A major CPS reform bill increases the placements for children with relatives, known as kinship placement. Spearheaded by Rep. Cindy Burkett and Sen. Charles Schwertner, this legislation better supports family members who take in children in CPS care. Family caregivers who once received an annual $1,000 payment and an additional annual payment of $500 for each sibling will now receive approximately $350 per month per child, about half of what basic foster care providers receive.
The future looks brighter for children in foster care than it did back in January, yet there’s more to be done. The focus must remain on the best interest of the children. All aspects of our child protection system need to become more informed about the complex trauma that abused and neglected children experience and how it affects their behavior. We also need to create mechanisms that engage and involve relatives and other caring adults to support children in foster care, such as the Collaborative Family Engagement program that CASA programs are developing with CPS.
Lawmakers took meaningful steps to change the fate of Texas children. We continue to move forward from here. It will take time, it will be gradual, and it will be worth it because our children are worth it. When foster children have the level of care and services they need, they will begin to thrive — and when our kids thrive, so will Texas.
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