Texas

New Texas Foster Care Report Shows Both Improvements And Continuing Weaknesses

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Court monitors after years of litigation against the state and the Department of Family and Welfare released the fifth report Friday night, keeping track of where the agency has made progress and where it hasn’t.

A pending update from federal watchdogs showed an improvement in the number of children assigned to social workers and the accuracy of DFPS investigations. However, he also found several DFPS investigations in which the state failed to protect children from security threats, including lack of drug control and exposing children to the risk of human trafficking.

The report comes ahead of a Jan. 27 hearing on a federal lawsuit in which Gov. Greg Abbott and the DFPS are both named defendants and charged with violating the constitutional rights of Texas children.

In 2015, U.S. District Judge Janice Graham Jack found that the state had failed to protect children in the care of Child Protective Services from unreasonable risk of harm. In a 2018 court order, the monitors were instructed to monitor the defendants’ compliance with several of the “corrective measures” outlined in the lawsuit.

Last June Jack threatened to impose ‘substantial fines’ v. Texas for failing to follow her orders to fix the problematic foster care system.

In recent months, the DFPS has experienced a rapid change in leadership and exodus of thousands of employees members. Former DFS Commissioner Jamie Masters was recently replaced after three tumultuous years at the helm of the agency. In November Abbott announced he appointed Stephanie Muth, consultant and former director of Medicaid at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, in place of Master.

Two federal monitors appointed by Jack to oversee the agency released periodic reports on Texas’s progress in addressing threats to the safety of children in the foster care system. The last four reports document the agency’s progress in addressing child safety threats, but more needs to be done by the state. Observers noted that in the more than two years since the first report, the agency has not complied with all court orders.

Friday’s report included demographics for the age, gender and race of children in state care, as well as a list of the dead. Hispanic and black children are more likely to be placed under state care. Since July 2019, 47 children have died in Texas foster families.

Since the last report, the DFPS has reduced the percentage of CPS employees involved in transhipment and has improved the quality of investigations conducted by the DFPS. Between January and June 2022, 13% fewer CPS employees had cases in excess of 17 children per employee.

Observers disagreed with the DFPS findings in 4.9% of the investigations, down from the 14% recorded in their third report released last January.

Observers noted deficiencies that have persisted since previous reports, including the continued exposure to risk for “children without accommodation” – a term for children in CPS care who do not have relatives or foster families with whom they could live, or who are licensed residential institutions. These children make up less than 1% of children in state care.

Agency closed the institution for children without premises in Marble Falls in October after the non-profit stopped providing a building to the DFPS in response to the alleged sexual abuse of two teenage girls who were living in a temporary shelter.

Monitors asked if the agency is “adequately protecting children from serious risk of harm” as it continues to place children in temporary unlicensed facilities. “Based on an observer review of the DFPS investigations into [children without placement] settings over the last 18 months, the answer is often negative,” the report says.

Response time on Statewide Intact, a hotline for reporting child abuse, neglect or exploitation, has increased by half a minute, with callers waiting an average of 5.2 minutes since the January 2022 report.

Monitors found a staffing contract that noted that the agency took “appropriate action” to protect children only 42% of the time the DFPS investigation suspected child abuse or abuse.

Early state budget proposals from legislature leaders called for $4 billion for CPS work under the DFPS. This amount represents an increase of $196.3 million across all funds, including $350.7 million in total income, compared to the 2022-23 biennium.

The budget proposal includes a $100 million increase in rates for foster parents, additional funding to hire additional social workers, and expanding community care to other areas of the state. Parts of the state have already transitioned to the CBC foster care model, which prioritizes keeping children in their home communities because it is believed that bringing children closer to their families improves their outcomes.

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