The Texas Tribune - November 4, 2016
by Marissa Evans
Special masters hired by the state to scrutinize the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services say the embattled agency should increase its focus on improving the timeliness in seeing children under its care — one of about 56 recommendations it made in a report released Friday.
In their 13-page report, special masters Kevin Ryan and Francis McGovern also discussed the need for improvements in updating children's health records and limiting caseloads for Child Protective Services caseworkers.
The long-awaited report comes almost a year after U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled that Texas’ long-term foster care system violated children's civil rights. She ordered the state to hire special masters to come up with solutions.
Kate Murphy, child protection policy associate for Texans Care for Children, said in an email statement that the report appears "on the right track" but that "the steps outlined in the report are not intended to chart a path to a highly effective foster care system."
She said the items the special investigators are recommending would bring the state up to minimum standards. She also pointed out that the backlog of children who have not been seen by caseworkers is also not addressed because that's not part of the federal lawsuit.
"The blueprint is aimed at ending the trauma caused by the foster care homes where the state sends kids that are removed from their families," Murphy said.
"State leaders will have to do more to make sure that kids in foster care heal from the trauma they've already experienced and grow up healthy. As the state implements the steps outlined by the Special Masters to fulfill our legal obligation, there will be much more work to do to fulfill our moral obligation."
State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, said in a statement that the legislature would continue working on fixes for the agency.
"We appreciate many of the recommendations announced today and look forward to continuing our efforts to reform the state foster care system in a way that ensures the best possible outcomes for the children of Texas," Schwertner said. "I think we all acknowledge the need to make improvements in how DFPS operates, but ultimately the responsibility for solving this problem lies with the Texas Legislature -- not the courts."
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the report's findings were unsurprising but "a real step toward fixing our unconstitutional and broken foster care system." He said he hopes the agency sees the recommendations as a roadmap they can start working on right away. Many of the problems, he said, were noted in Whitman's recent proposal to overhaul CPS, meaning it could take a significant boost in state spending to fix things.
Lawmakers should look at the recommendations "not with the standard being, 'Is it going to cost money?' Instead, let the standard be, 'Is this going to make children's lives safer?'" Watson said. "If we go by that standard I think we get somewhere and I think the court and constitution has said that's what we need to do."