Tonight, an estimated 13 children will sleep on the floor of CPS offices throughout Texas. “Every day was uncertain,” one child who experienced it routinely told the Texas Tribune. “You don’t know where you’re going to lay your head — where you’re going to get your next plate of food.” The child described the experience as comparable to jail.
Last month, 415 children spent at least two consecutive nights without placement. The Texas Legislature needs to target the real problem, which is not funding, but burdensome regulations and licensing demanded by the Department of Protective and Family Services.
Significant foster care reform was achieved in the 87th Regular Session, but there is still much work to be done. The governor rightly put foster care reform on his call for special session, but due to the walkout by Democratic House members, no work can be done for these children.
The current problem does not stem from lack of funding, but from a DFPS overreaction to the current lawsuit against the state’s foster care system. U.S. District Judge Janice Jack’s order for foster care reform was well intentioned but has resulted in regulation which is driving away care providers in significant numbers. This year, the state lost at least 1,000 beds for children, most of which are group facilities.
This unnecessary and heavy-handed regulation is driving away providers and actively harming—not helping—Texas children.
This problem, though complicated, must be addressed immediately. In the short term, Texas needs to rely on the resources given through legislation passed in the regular session. State-wide implementation of HB 567, HB 2926, and HB 3041, which focus on preserving and reuniting families, would help deal with the housing shortage immediately. Though some provisions of these bills do not go into effect until Sept. 1, the department should begin working toward their rapid implementation.
The department should also expedite home approvals and give case-specific licensing waivers to provide safe homes more efficiently for children in need.
In the long term, the DFPS needs to update its funding rate to more accurately reflect the real cost of taking care of Texas foster children. The blended rate being used in community-based care regions has proven to be effective in incentivizing placement in the least restrictive settings, and full statewide implementation of community-based care will greatly aid in addressing funding problems.
The department should also update its licensing standards to stop unnecessarily penalizing agencies for minor licensing violations. This heightened monitoring is an overreaction to the lawsuit against the Texas foster care system, which is causing a burden on care providers. This burden directly causes many of these providers to cease operation—exacerbating the current housing shortage.
The recent Democratic walkout has halted any progression of legislation that would benefit Texas foster children. These elected representatives need to come back to Texas and work together with other lawmakers to help and protect one of the most vulnerable populations in our state.
No child should have to spend the night in a government office while the people elected to protect them are sleeping in cushy hotel rooms in D.C. As Judge Jack has noted, children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.”
Texan leaders need to come together and use our current resources to fight unnecessarily burdensome regulation, which would allow for more children to more easily find a safe home.