Texas Legislature Stalls on CPS Reform

June 3, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Just four days ago, I reported that the Commissioner of the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services, Hank Whitman, was retiring after just three years on the job.  Yes, Whitman had done much-needed things for the agency, principally, greatly increased funding for CPS that’s overseen by DFPS.

But with all that extra funding, isn’t now Whitman’s chance to use that money to make needed improvements to how the state treats kids at risk of abuse or neglect?  Why obtain the money and then walk away before you have a real opportunity to use it?

My somewhat cynical guess was this:

[M]aybe he sees that Texas has done all it’s going to do for the time about cleaning up the horrendous mess that was CPS.  Do lawmakers figure that the crisis has been averted and plan to scale back funding again?

Now this article tells us that I wasn’t far wrong (Texas Standard, 5/31/19).

Child advocates say [this year’s legislative] session was marked by little action on foster care.

Let’s back up two years to the 2017 Texas legislative session.

That year, Gov. Greg Abbott made overhauling the state’s struggling child welfare system a top priority during his State of the State Address.

“We need more workers, better training, smarter strategies, and real accountability in order to safeguard our children,” Abbott said.

Abbott’s call to action came after a federal judge declared the Texas foster care system “unconstitutional” and “broken.” There had also been a spike in the number of kids sleeping in state offices and hotels due to a lack of placements. The agency was also facing high staff turnover rates.

As a result, state lawmakers pumped an extra $500 million into the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Cut to the 2019 Texas legislative session, and well, it just wasn’t the same.

Kate Murphy is the senior child welfare policy associate at Texans Care for Children. She had hoped lawmakers would prioritize more foster care reforms this session.

“And there were a number of pretty big ticket items things like expanding trauma informed care, and taking care of our older youth in foster care that they were hoping to work on last session, that just didn’t get the kind of attention we were expecting at all,” Murphy says.

And then there’s the zinger:

[B]ecause [legislators] put so much attention and in their case, renewed and increased resources into CPS last session, many of them thought that problem was solved and didn’t want to come back to it,” [lobbyist Will Frances] says.

So did Whitman leave the agency because he knew from legislative inaction this term that Texas has paid all the special attention to CPS it intends to for the time?  That’s what it looks like from here, but needless to say, the problems, while greatly ameliorated by the extra funds, haven’t gone away and won’t.

The class action lawsuit that found long-term foster care unconstitutional will be reaching its final conclusion. Plus, a federal measure that revamps how the U.S. government pays states for foster care goes into effect after the 2021 session ends. It’s called the Family First Prevention Services Act. That leaves little time for the state to comply with new federal standards to keep qualifying for those taxpayer dollars.

Texas lawmakers may have a limited attention span when it comes to abused and neglected kids.  They of course can spend an entire session ignoring them.  But that doesn’t mean children in the state no longer suffer at the hands of parents, foster parents, caregivers and others.  It doesn’t mean that taking kids into foster care is necessarily the right thing for them.  And it doesn’t mean that acting in violation of the Constitution in order to shanghai children away from their homes – a distressingly common practice by CPS caseworkers – is the right mode of action.

Those things and more continue, whether the legislature is paying attention or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *