Texas House Proposes Big Changes to Ailing Child Welfare System, While Senators Decry Slow Progress

The Department of Family and Protective services, the umbrella agency over the problem-plagued Child and Protective Services, would be a stand-alone agency reporting directly to Gov. Greg Abbott under a sweeping House plan to overhaul the Texas child welfare system.A group of six Republicans and six Democrats also said they want to expand a pilot program in North Texas to the entire state and support family members who step up to care for children who would otherwise go to a foster home. Dubbed foster care redesign, the pilot program comes with a hefty price tag, but its proponents say it does a better job of keeping traumatized foster children closer to home, with their siblings rather than hopping around from foster home to foster home.That program was highlighted by The Dallas Morning News in December as a potential off-the-shelf remedy for many of the foster care systems current woes. The House leaders also intend to invest in kinship care, the practice of placing abused or neglected children with family members, such as grandparents, who essentially become licensed foster parents. Currently, the state provides a lump sum to encourage relatives to take on additional financial burdens to care for extended family, which child welfare experts say is usually better for children. But a new proposal would create a monthly stipend, giving the state a more reliable resource to recruit caregivers as it struggles to find more homes for a steady influx of kids.Rep. Richard Raymond, a Houston Democrat, said DFPS is "important enough that it ought to be a free-standing agency so that the governor can direct it."That move is an about face from previous efforts to consolidate DFPS into the sprawling Health and Human Services Commission, an effort Raymond supported as a member of the red-lining Sunset Advisory Commission, which proposes nixes and fixes to state bureaucracy.With its announcement, the House working group said the status quo isn't working and pledged to make Texas' child welfare system – both foster care and front-end child abuse investigations – the best in the country. They have a long way to go.Kids being shuffled through the foster care system and placed in far-flung counties are major factors in a federal judge's order to overhaul the foster care system, which she called "broken." Lawmakers agree the system is in much need of repair, yet at the same time House and Senate leaders embrace such improvements, Attorney General Ken Paxton is fighting that order.Abbott and lawmakers in both chambers approved millions in emergency funding late last year to provide more competitive wages for caseworkers and to hire more caseworkers. That came only after a year-long drum beat of news stories showed the state's cascading failure to hire and retain qualified caseworkers led to dangerous case backlogs and left thousands of reportedly abused children going unseen.But don't expect the checks to come easily. Even as the House working group unveiled ambitious improvements, they expressed reticent to lob more public money at the agency. Rep. James Frank, a Wichita Falls Republican, said lawmakers have already beefed up the DFPS budget in recent years."Where are the improvements?" he said. "Money is not the silver bullet. If money alone were the fix, then the child welfare system would have been fixed long ago."Frank didn't mention those infusions of money still haven't made up for previous significant cuts to child welfare in Texas, which is increasingly supported by federal welfare funding.  Continue reading...

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