For over a decade U.S District Judge Janis Graham Jack has wanted Texas to fix the state’s foster care system, and help the children who face neglect, abuse and even their lives at risk, while in Texas’ hands.
Two years ago Judge Jack ordered a long list of reforms for the failing foster care system, but in September 2020, Texas was found in contempt and was given one month to fix its foster care system, and the problems of placing children continuously where they have been neglected, abused or died.
The month has come and gone.
For the first time Gov. Greg Abbott has made a pledge to do something for Texas’ foster care children. Abbott said Texas will do “exactly” what Judge Jack has ordered, during an interview in early February on a Rio Grande Valley radio station, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Houston business litigator Paul Yetter, who represented the children of Texas during a 2014 trial in the case, told the Dallas Morning News that having the governor’s support could mean “real improvements are coming.”
Now Judge Jack is giving the state until May to make progress to fix Texas’ broken foster care system, or face hefty fines and sanctioning. Accomplishing this will take a lot more funding, reversing capacity problems, raising the standards and ensuring high-quality providers, quality investigations into abuse, improvements for heightened monitoring and caseload guidelines.
Gov. Abbott’s budget proposal for 2022 to 2023 states that efforts are to be made to assure the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) meet the requirements of the court orders from the federal foster care litigation and that compliance with the federal foster care lawsuit is met efficiently, according to the proposal.
Although the Legislature has demonstrated its commitment to improving the foster care system, the proposal states more support is necessary to ensure ongoing compliance.
Here are the governor’s litigation-related requests before the Legislature:
- Continuation of funding that established a rate increase for providers to attain 24-hour awake night supervision in certain licensed residential placements;
- Additional funding to assist the agencies with the heightened monitoring of certain licensed providers to ensure they meet a high standard of performance for children in their care;
- Relocating the residential child care licensing function from HHSC to DFPS which will aid in more effective transitions between child care investigations and licensing investigations; and
- Exceptional item requests related to staffing for residential child care investigations and child care licensing, staffing for CPS, heighted monitoring implementation costs, and court monitor fees.
Abbott further recommends the 87th Legislature support transferring the residential child care licensing function to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and to increase payments for foster parents as well as for general residential operations.
Next fall, on October 1, 2021, the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) will go into effect, Abbott states in the proposal, this will be the first time that states may use federal Title IV-E dollars for programs that work to prevent kids from entering the foster care system, stating that Texas must utilize this new opportunity to help Texas kids.