October 24, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Doubling down on their non-solution to the state’s catastrophic situation with Child Protective Services, Texas’ top elected officials are now calling on “faith-based communities” to help solve its foster care crisis (Texas Tribune, 10/17/16).
I last reported here on a letter sent by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House to the Commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services. As I said then, the letter was full of powerful language and stern directives to CPS to do a better job of protecting children. But entirely lacking was any mention of increased resources for doing the vital job of protecting children from harm. Given that, in the past, Governor Greg Abbott has refused to promise an increased budget for the DFPS, the letter’s exhortations rang hollow to say the least. Words are just words, but improvement in an agency that no one claims to be performing up to even the most minimal standards will take more money. It’ll take more than money, to be sure, but a larger budget is the sine qua non of reform.
Now we have Lieutenant Governor and erstwhile sports caster Dan Patrick proclaiming that “faith-based communities” need to step up and produce foster homes where previously there have been none. Exactly how he believes this will work, Patrick doesn’t say. Like the letter to Commissioner Hank Whitman, it looks suspiciously like words and only words.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick unveiled Monday an initiative for Texas faith-based communities to identify foster and adoptive families for children, the latest in attempts from state leaders to ease a backlog of thousands of endangered kids searching for homes.
"I’m asking faith-based leaders across Texas to reach out to their congregations and communities to open their hearts and homes to the foster children of Texas," Patrick said in a statement.
I can see that having a temporary effect. I can see an appeal to churches, synagogues, etc. resonating with people in their congregations and a few families stepping forward to take in foster kids. Fine. But there’s a reason for the dramatic shortfall in foster carers in Texas. Actually, there are more reasons than just one.
First and foremost of course, Texas doesn’t compensate foster parents very well. That’s in keeping with the state’s overall approach to children at risk of abuse or neglect. The kids don’t vote, so, when it comes to state resources, they find themselves at the very end of a very long line. This year, like every other year, they’re in the position of Oliver Twist, meekly holding out their little bowl and begging for “more.”
And, as in the book, they’re not likely to get it.
The second reason for the shortfall in foster carers is Governor Abbott himself. Just days after he entered the Governor’s Mansion in January of 2015, and responding to a single incident in which a child was killed by a kinship caregiver, Abbott issued an order essentially banning a child’s relatives from providing temporary foster services. The system was already strapped for foster homes and Abbott’s order made a bad situation far worse. Soon we were reading stories of children “housed” in office buildings and shoved into mental health facilities at many times the cost of foster homes.
So, rather than rescind his destructive order, Abbott, et al, are trying to put the onus on others to solve a problem that’s far beyond the ability of anyone but the state to solve.
What I suspect will happen is that the clarion call to the faithful to provide foster care will net a few generous souls and Patrick will proclaim a great victory. But the realities of life as a foster care provider in Texas will soon make themselves manifest to the new recruits. Those realities will have the same effect on them as they have on so many others, i.e. most of them will conclude that the detriments of fostering children outweigh the benefits and they’ll opt out of the system. Children at risk of abuse or neglect will then be right back where they are now – under-protected by the state agency that has that, and only that, as its mission.
Abbott, Patrick, et al are trying to protect Texas’ children with smoke and mirrors. They’re still trying to pretend they can do more for them with the same resources that have proven over many years to be insufficient to the job at hand. Strong words and wishful thinking about faith-based communities are all pretense and no reform. They’re efforts to appear to take seriously one of the state’s worst problems, while keeping the budget for CPS at one of the lowest levels in the entire nation. It won’t work and frankly, my guess is that the governor and his underlings know it perfectly well.
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