During 2016, major problems with Texas’ Child Protective Services or Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) as it is now called, started surfacing and by the end of 2016, cries from all over the state were being heard to overhaul the system.
Rising death rates from children in the foster-care system, a shortage of foster care homes available to accommodate children and long-time employees quitting their jobs were all signs pointing to the fact that the Texas’ CPS (DFPS) system was broken.
According to the latest HHS reports, Texas has over 15,000 children in foster care and the apparent need to overhaul the system is something that Texas cannot turn a blind eye to.
Governor Abbott made DFPS reform one of his emergency items for the 85th session and nearly two months into the legislative session, two pieces of legislation have made it through committee to the Texas House of Representatives. Both bills address issues within the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
HB 4 and HB 5 will be discussed on the House floor today. Keeping in mind that both bills can be amended significantly on the Floor, here are answers to some questions you may have about the legislation:
HB 4 (Rep. Cindy Burkett):
What’s the problem?
There is an overflow of children in the foster care system and not enough people to care for these children. Under current law, strangers who choose to foster children receive a payment from the state. However, family members who choose to foster the children do not receive any payment for expenses.
What’s the proposed solution?
Rep. Burkett’s bill gives a one-time payment of $1000 to families in the highest income bracket, and lower income brackets receive a payment that is 50% of what non-family caregivers would normally receive.
What’s the cost?
The Legislative Budget Board predicts a cost to the state of $32,543,356. Since family members do not currently receive any payment for fostering, there will be additional money expended under this legislation. Although not expounded upon in the cost projection, some suggest that it will, in the long run, cost the state less money due to more families being able to provide fostering services.
HB 5 (Rep. James Frank)
What is the problem?
For some time, DFPS has been facing a caseload problem: Too many cases, too few caseworkers. To prevent more children from slipping through the cracks and heighten accountability, Rep. Frank filed HB 5.
What is the proposed solution?
HB 5 seeks to remedy this caseload/caseworker ratio issue by completely removing DFPS from the oversight of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Under current law, DFPS is just another department inside the HHSC, but Rep. Frank’s bill would move them out from under HHSC and create an entirely separate DFPS agency. The DFPS would be required to continue covering issues related to children, the aging, and the disabled. The legislation requires that they create five separate divisions within the agency: Investigations, Contracting, Office of Consumer Affairs, Consolidated Data Division, and Legal Division. Beyond this, the commissioner can create departments as he sees fit. This commissioner would be required to also work in conjunction with a nine-member Family and Protective Services council regarding rule-making. Because the DFPS will now be an independent agency, under this bill, they would also be allowed to exchange otherwise-confidential information about children in their care with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
What is the cost?
The Legislative Budget Board projects no cost for implementing this legislation. Staff already working at DFPS under the oversight of HHSC will simply be moved to the separate agency. They will be required to contract with HHSC to fulfill their administrative needs, but no new money will be spent or allocated for DFPS.
Will Texas see major changes to the Department of Family and Protective Services? That answer is not clear yet, but it is looking hopeful. The citizens of Texas fully expect legislators to do the right thing.
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