Ombudsman Report Shows Lege Must Improve Foster Care

For Immediate Release
Contact: Peter Clark, [email protected], 512-473-2274

Austin - A new report by the state’s Office of the Ombudsman for Children and Youth in Foster Care indicated that the office completed 241 investigations of complaints in Texas foster care in FY 2018 and confirmed violations of policies, rules, or children’s rights in 71 of those cases, including ten that involved abuse and neglect and four instances of illegal restraints, including choke holds. In all, there were more than 600 complaints to the Ombudsman, with the majority made by a child’s family or relatives or by providers themselves.

“The report provides further evidence that Texas leaders need to continue improving foster care,” said Kate Murphy, Senior Policy Associate for Child Protection at Texans Care for Children. “When CPS removes a child from her family and places her in foster care to keep her safe, her life should get better. While we have many wonderful foster care placements in Texas, this report unfortunately confirms that the state is placing some children in residential treatment centers or other foster homes that are not safe.”

The report indicates that, in some cases, state agencies charged with protecting children — including Child Protective Investigations (CPI), Child Care Licensing (CCL), and Child Protective Services (CPS) — are not adequately investigating and addressing allegations of abuse and neglect. The report states that CPS had only a 38 percent response rate to Ombudsman recommendations and did not take action on more than 40 youth complaints substantiated by the Ombudsman. It is important to note that children often do not report instances of abuse or other problems in the foster care system and therefore those cases would not be covered by the Ombudsman’s report.

CCL, a division of the state’s Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), is responsible for regulating and overseeing child care providers; residential child care facilities such as cottage homes, residential treatment centers, and emergency shelters; and child placing agencies, which license foster homes. CPI and CPS are housed in the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Following changes made by the Legislature in 2017, CPI is responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect in foster care, child care, and biological families while CPS has many other child welfare duties, including placing children in foster care.

The report comes on the heels of an opinion by a panel of Republican-appointed judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that found Texas’ inadequate monitoring and oversight of licensed facilities creates an unreasonable risk of harm to children in Texas foster care in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Further, the court noted that, “DFPS is aware of the systemic deficiencies plaguing its monitoring and oversight practices. It also knows that these deficiencies pose a significant safety risk for foster children. Despite this knowledge, DFPS has not taken reasonable steps to cure the problems. Indeed, it is not clear that it has taken any steps at all.”

The Legislature and DFPS have taken important and effective steps in other areas to improve child welfare during the last two years, such as reducing turnover among caseworkers who investigate abuse and neglect in biological families and addressing wait times for health exams when children enter foster care.

“We appreciate the progress that the Legislature and DFPS officials have made over the last two years, but clearly there is much more work to do,” said Ms. Murphy.

To improve children’s safety in foster care, Texans Care for Children urges CCL and CPI to improve enforcement of current standards and urges state legislators to:

  • Ensure DFPS and HHSC are appropriately implementing HB 249, legislation passed in 2017 to strengthen investigations of abuse and neglect in licensed foster homes or facilities,

  • Embrace new opportunities through the Family First Preservation Services Act (FFPSA) to elevate the quality of care provided in licensed foster homes or facilities, and

  • Align reporting requirements for investigations of abuse and neglect in foster homes with the reporting requirements for CPI in biological family homes to improve accountability, transparency, and child safety.