FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 06/26/2017
TEXAS LEGISLATURE REFORMS CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM
In January, at the start of the 85th Legislative Session, Governor Greg Abbott made it clear to members of the House and Senate that improving Child Protective Services and Texas’ foster care program needed to be a top priority for this Legislature. I wholeheartedly concurred with the Governor’s assessment as the CPS system in Texas has been inadequate for far too many years.
Texas CPS has suffered from caseworker shortages, a lack of good placement options, and even the death of some children which were later determined to have been preventable. This system was put in place to protect our most vulnerable Texans, and we owe those children nothing less than a complete overhaul which puts their needs and safety above a bloated bureaucracy whose primary concern is preserving the status quo.
To that end, we passed House Bill 4, House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 11 which will collectively overhaul the child welfare system. Broadly, this package of legislation provides additional support for families who take in abused children (also known as “kinship care”), establishes the Department of Family and Protective Services as its own agency (currently it is under the Health and Human Services Commission), and expands community based foster care.
Turning the Department of Family and Protective Services into a standalone agency is a critical step towards removing several layers of bureaucracy in order to ensure accountability. It will also help to directly connect CPS caseworkers and lawmakers so that future policy goals and agency priorities are determined based on the best interests of the children in need, and no one else.
Another issue that has been hamstringing our child welfare system is the lack of cooperation with non-profits and faith-based organizations. House Bill 871 will require the Department of Family and Protective Services to work with these groups in providing support services to families in crisis situations, and also to alert families of other support options that are available in their area. This legislation ensures that local entities are able to serve families in their own communities in times of need. Also, by giving as many providers as possible opportunities, it expands a family’s support network with the ultimate goal of avoiding the need to remove a child from their home.
Unfortunately, some situations cannot be remedied and do call for a child to be placed into foster care. The current law states that foster children are best served by being placed in the “least restrictive” environment. Until now, there has been no definition for that standard in state law. That is why we passed House Bill 1542, to provide a definition in order to create clarity and make sure that foster children are placed in homes that are as family-like as possible.
Finally, while the 2017-2019 budget keeps state spending increases under population growth plus inflation, and stays well below all constitutional spending limits, we were able to add $508 million in the budget for child protection. This includes funds to hire almost 600 new CPS caseworkers, to enhance foster care provider rates, and to provide additional support for kinship care as mentioned above.
While we did not solve every ill facing the child welfare system in Texas this legislative session, we took a giant step forward to ensuring that the future of the Department of Family and Protective Services will be more efficient and effective at protecting our youngest, and most defenseless, little Texans.
As always, it is an honor to represent you in the Texas House of Representatives, and I welcome your comments and opinions. Please visit my website at www.AndrewMurr.org or contact our District Office in Kerrville (715 Water Street) at 830-257-0432 and let me hear from you.