4 Opportunities to Improve Texas Child Protection Policy Over the Next 2 Years

The last two years have been busy for advocates, foster care alumni, state officials and others working on improving Texas foster care, Child Protective Services (CPS), and other child welfare issues. The next two years promise to be just as busy. Below are four issues to keep an eye on. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll provide more information, ways to get involved, and policy recommendations in each area.

1. Implementing key bills from the 2015 legislative session.

As we explained in our CPS legislative recap, this session legislators passed two key bills to shore up the front end of the foster care system and improve safety. HB 781 strengthens training and screening for prospective foster parents while SB 125 requires standardized assessments of children entering the system. Other important, lower profile bills include two to provide more data on foster children who are pregnant and parenting and those who fall victim to human trafficking. We will work with CPS and other stakeholders to ensure these and other bills are properly implemented and monitored.

2. Moving focus from front end of foster care to services in the system.

After the Legislature made progress on safety and the front end of the foster care system, it’s time to work on the services and support for children in the system. We all want these children to overcome the trauma they’ve experienced and grow up healthy and successful. And the state of Texas has a particular obligation to these children since it serves as their parent. Yet we clearly aren’t fulfilling that obligation. Between 11 and 37 percent of youth aging out of foster care experience homelessness. The obesity rate for foster children is much higher than it is for other children. In the coming months will offer a number of policy solutions to put these children on a better path.

3. Supporting, preserving, and reunifying families.

The best way for children to avoid the challenges and trauma of entering the foster care system is to keep them safely with their families. And all Texans would agree that keeping families together is best for parents and children, as long as the kids are safe. It may come as a surprise, but the majority of CPS cases involve parents who don’t give children adequate attention for reasons related to poverty. If young kids are walking down the block unattended because parents with low-wage jobs are struggling to find quality, affordable child care, for example, we should focus on solutions that don’t remove the children from the home. Other states have found ways to save money by investing in services that help families stay together in the first place or after a child is reunified with her family. By deploying peer mentors, foster parents, and other resources to coach and support at-risk parents, Texas can preserve families and save money.

4. Rewriting DFPS minimum standards for providers in 2016

Next year, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), the parent agency of CPS, will update the minimum standards for child placing agencies, group homes, residential treatment centers, adoption agencies, and other providers. The process will provide a critical opportunity for stakeholders to ensure that the state’s administrative rules support children and a well-functioning provider system.

Stay tuned for more updates on these four key areas for child protection.