As members of the Legislature, we are committed to ensuring that every child in Texas can grow up in a safe, healthy, and loving home. We have grown increasingly concerned in recent years over the number of unnecessary removals of children by Child Protective Services and the excessive length of time children spend warehoused in our state’s foster care system.
It was out of this concern for the wellbeing of all Texas children that we worked together on House Bill 567, which passed the House and Senate with supermajority bipartisan support. Our legislation, which is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature, modernizes Texas law governing Child Protective Services to eliminate needless removals of children and prioritize services targeted at preserving and strengthening families.
It is well-documented that except in rare cases, removing a child from his or her family causes immense harm to the child. Studies consistently show that children who are separated from their families, even for a short period of time, experience significant, life-long trauma that place them at greater risk of negative outcomes like juvenile justice involvement, teenage pregnancy and economic instability. It is essential that we do everything we can do to prevent this harm.
The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is tasked with the important and difficult job of protecting children from abuse—and we thank those caseworkers on the front lines of protecting children for their efforts. We must protect children from abuse, and we must also protect them from the trauma of needlessly entering foster care. Our bill provides DFPS caseworkers with the clear guidance and tools they need to prevent unnecessary removals of children and to ensure that agency resources are properly directed to the care of children at immediate risk of harm.
Roughly 75% of children who enter the Texas foster care system do so for allegations of neglect—neglect which is often rooted in conditions of poverty. Statewide data reveals that a child living in one of the 25 poorest counties in Texas is statistically more likely to enter foster care due to an allegation of neglect than a child living in one of the 25 wealthiest counties. This results in dramatic inconsistencies in removal rates throughout the state—with some counties removing children at rates more than four times higher than the state average. House Bill 567 will create more consistency in these decisions by clarifying definitions that investigators and courts rely upon when making removal decisions, and by requiring that families involved with DFPS receive constitutionally required due process protections.
Equally important to preventing unnecessary entries into foster care is reducing the amount of time children spend in the foster care system. On average, a child who enters the custody of DFPS will spend around 20 months in care. Those lucky enough to be adopted out of care will have spent more than two years in state custody. Youth who age-out of the system without finding a permanent home spend more than three years in care. During this time, children often bounce from placement to placement, compounding the trauma they experience.
This is unacceptable, and this is why House Bill 567 will reduce the time it takes for children to either return home to their birth families or be united with a family through adoption. Our bill will benefit children in foster care by establishing of clear deadlines governing their cases. Current Texas law requires a court to commence a final trial in child protection cases by the one-year anniversary of the date the child entered foster care. Sadly, there is no deadline for when the trial must conclude. This has resulted in cases that drag on for years, leaving children in legal limbo and subjecting them to even greater harm. House Bill 567 will require courts to enter a final order concerning a child’s future within 90 days of commencing the final trial.
Every session, we are entrusted with making a number of important decisions on behalf of the people of the State of Texas. Few decisions have higher stakes than those involving the protection of children, and it is incumbent upon the Legislature to ensure that we get these decisions right.
House Bill 567 is the product of years of work by a multitude of stakeholders and legislators of both parties. This new law will reduce unnecessary removals and trauma to children in our communities, and we are excited and optimistic about the implementation of these reforms. The children of Texas need us to get this done.