Major child welfare reforms advance to Gov. Abbott


Senate Bill 11 would expand community-based foster care, a move toward privatization.

Proponents say that a Fort Worth pilot program has kept a high number of children in their communities.

Gov. Greg Abbott made addressing the state’s child welfare system one of his priorities for the Legislature.

Keeping their word to address the state’s troubled child welfare system, Texas lawmakers passed major reforms including one that would continue stripping the state of its foster care responsibilities.

Lawmakers on Sunday sent to Gov. Greg Abbott Senate Bill 11 filed by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, which would expand so-called community-based foster care to at least two additional areas in the state over the next two years. The state would transfer foster care case management, including caseworker visits, court-related duties and decision-making on where children live, learn and receive services, to a nonprofit agency or a governmental entity such as a county or municipality.

“We cannot continue to fund a statewide system that does not take into account individualized community supports, efforts and services and further traumatizes children by moving them from one side of the state to another away from their siblings, their family and their community that they know,” Schwertner said.

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The move toward privatization comes as Child Protective Services and the foster care system come under the microscope for child deaths, high turnover and a failure to see endangered children within state-mandated time frames.

Abbott included fixing foster care as one of his four priorities for the Legislature this session.

Skeptics of community-based foster care, including four of the six members of the Austin delegation in the House, fear that nonprofits who contract with the state might have interests that do not jibe with the best interests of foster children.

Proponents of the community-based model say that a Fort Worth pilot program has kept a high number of children in their communities, decreased the number of times children moved from home to home and increased the number of foster homes, particularly in rural areas.

SB 11 would also:

• Create standardized policies for child abuse and neglect investigations.

• Require the state to collect and monitor repeated reports of abuse or neglect involving the same child or by the same alleged perpetrator.

• Cover the costs of day care services for foster children.

• Ensure that the state child welfare agency collects data and creates a plan to address foster home shortages in regions where privatized foster care hasn’t occurred.

Also on Sunday, both chambers approved House Bill 5 by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, which would make the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees CPS and the foster care system, its own agency; currently it’s housed under the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Last week, the Texas Legislature also advanced two other major foster care and child protection measures — HB 4 and HB 7 — to Abbott. HB 7 addresses the court proceedings that affect foster children and their biological parents and HB 4 would increase payments to people who foster children who are their family members.

The budget approved by the Legislature on Saturday boosts funding to Child Protective Services by $500 million to give caseworkers raises and hire 500 new ones.

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