Gov. Greg Abbott signed four bills Wednesday reforming the state’s beleaguered child welfare system, one of his priorities of the legislative session just ended.
“With this landmark legislation, with the direction and pathway we are now on, I expect the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to strive for and achieve and accomplish No. 1 ranking status in the United States of America as concerns taking care of our children,” Abbott said at the signing at the department’s headquarters.
The intent of the legislative package is to keep more children with relatives, increase the capacity of foster homes by streamlining regulations and moving toward privatization of some foster care services.
The governor praised the progress the department had already made this year in reducing caseloads and increasing the number of high-risk children seen within 14 hours.
“Even before this landmark legislation was passed, during this calendar year … there’s been a remarkable improvement in almost every single metric,” the governor said.
With a bevy of legislators who had played a critical role in passing the new laws, Abbott described the legislation as the centerpiece of the 85th Legislature.
“We wanted to do more than put a Band-Aid on the problem. We wanted to fix the problem from top to bottom,” Abbott said. “We made children the focus of everything we did.”
In his State of the State address in January, Abbott made reforming Child Protective Services his first emergency item. That agenda-setting was fulfilled as the governor signed House Bills 4, 5 and 7 and Senate Bill 11.
SB 11 will:
• 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.
• Create pilot programs in two geographical areas for the privatization of family-based safety services, which help families who have been investigated for abuse.
HB 5 makes the Department of Family and Protective Services its own agency instead of being housed within Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
HB 7 addresses the court proceedings that affect foster children and their biological parents.
HB 4 increases payments to people who foster children who are their family members.
The budget approved by the Legislature on Saturday increases funding to Child Protective Services by $500 million to give caseworkers raises and hire 500 new ones in an attempt to slow the alarmingly high turnover at the agency.
WHAT WE REPORTED
The American-Statesman published “Missed Signs, Fatal Consequences, ” a three-day series of stories in 2015 reviewing 779 child death reports by Child Protective Services from September 2009 through March 2014. The Statesman found nearly 400 cases in which children who died of abuse or neglect were known by CPS to be in potential danger. The investigation found that high staff turnover rates and low salaries contributed to the problem.