This is part three of a five-part policy brief: Opportunities to Protect Children During the 2019 Legislative Session.
In addition to continuing to reform the foster care system, Texas should take stronger steps to keep more children out of foster care in the first place. Removing kids from their families has significant consequences, including trauma for children and parents and added stress on an overburdened foster care system. Key opportunities for Texas to reduce entries into foster care include strengthening parental access to substance use treatment and better supporting pregnant and parenting youth in foster care.
To Keep More Families Safely Together, Texas Must Reduce Entries into Foster Care by Increasing Access to Treatment for Parents with Substance Use Disorders
BACKGROUND ON PARENTS’ SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS AND FOSTER CARE
One area that is particularly ripe for change when it comes to preventing entries into foster care is parental substance use. In 2017, sixty-eight percent of children entering foster care were removed, at least in part, due to parental substance use.
Under the Family First Prevention Services Act, states will be able to use federal Title IV-E funding for substance use treatment services for parents at risk of losing their children to CPS custody. Although Texas does not have immediate access to that funding due to its decision to delay implementation of the FFPSA until 2021, Texas should take advantage of opportunities presented through (1) the package of bills passed on a bipartisan basis by Congress in October 2017 to address the opioid crisis and (2) recommendations from the Texas House Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse to boost access to substance use treatment for families in need.
There is also a way that the state could potentially draw down new funding under the FFPSA to address parental substance use during the two year period before full implementation of FFPSA in Texas. The FFPSA currently allows IV-E funds to pay for children in DFPS conservatorship who are placed with their parents in family-based residential treatment. However, to take full advantage of this funding opportunity, Texas should think about way to increase the number of children placed with their parents in residential treatment while the children are in state conservatorship.
The state should leverage other federal funds now that will help keep the family unit together. These include Regional Partnership Grants, which were reauthorized and expanded through the FFPSA, and other grants made available through the federal package of opioid bills. These opportunities would help Texas develop a recovery coach program, expand family-based residential treatment, and strengthen implementation of Plans of Safe Care to ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of infants affected by parental substance use.
RECOMMENDATIONS ON PARENTS’ SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS AND CPS
Invest in, support, or expand policies that maximize opportunities for children to stay connected to their biological parent during treatment, such as:
Family-specialized residential treatment, and
Family Based Safety Services
Encourage state agencies to apply for new federal grants that support children and families affected by substance use disorders and prenatal substance exposure, including the following:
Recovery Coach program replication grants,
Plans of Safe Care implementation grants, and
Regional Partnership Grants.
To Keep More Families Safely Together, Texas Must Ensure Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care Have the Support They Need to Keep their Children Safe
BACKGROUND ON PREGNANT AND PARENTING YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE
As our 2018 report on the subject highlighted, too many children in Texas foster care become young parents. There are approximately 330 expectant youth and 220 minor parents in Texas foster care each year. They face a greater risk of poor health and education outcomes and having their own children removed by CPS.
Texas should take steps to address the needs of these youth and babies, starting with better data. Although Texas collects and reports some data on this population, improving data collection would help Texas better understand the prevalence of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care and what kinds of supports most effectively address their needs.
Additionally, Texas should boost funding for programs to support pregnant and parenting youth in foster care. The FFPSA will allow federal IV-E reimbursement for services and supports provided to pregnant and parenting youth in foster care once Texas implements the law, but Texas should not wait to act. Helping through Intervention and Prevention (HIP) is a successful DFPS Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) program targeted toward youth currently and formerly in foster care who are pregnant, have recently given birth, or are parenting a child up to two years old, including single teen fathers. Although HIP has expanded over the last two years, it is unavailable in many parts of northwest Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, leaving some youth without access to critical parenting supports. DFPS has requested an 11.4 percent increase in funding for HIP in the base budget, which will sustain the program. However, HIP was excluded from DFPS’ $30.8 million exceptional item budget request to expand prevention services to new areas.
RECOMMENDATIONS ON PREGNANT AND PARENTING YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE
Improve data collection and reporting on pregnant and parenting youth in foster care to inform decisions about expanding services and supports.
Improve training and support for professionals working with pregnant and parenting youth including caseworkers, caregivers, attorneys, guardians ad litem, CASAs, and judges.
Ensure all pregnant and parenting youth have access to supports and services that will help preserve their young families by further investing in the HIP program and passing legislation that ensures all pregnant and parenting youth receive basic parenting education.