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Leading up to the 85th Legislative Session it became apparent that the state foster care system and Child Protective Services program were having serious issues.

Child Protective Services (CPS) is the program that investigates reports of child abuse and neglect. If investigators find that a child is not safe, services are provided in the home to address these issues or the child is removed and placed into foster care with the eventual goal of the child being adopted.

The agency responsible for the CPS program, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), was having a hard time finding foster homes for many children forcing them to sleep in state office buildings instead of homes. Additionally, a lack of funding within the agency created a situation where low-paid caseworkers who investigate child abuse and help children find homes were leaving the agency to find less stressful and better paying jobs, causing remaining caseworkers to get behind in their investigations.

These issues culminated with a federal judge ruling that Texas had violated the constitutional rights of foster children by exposing them to an unreasonable risk of harm.

In the final months of 2016, the Texas Legislature made the decision to give an additional $150 million to DFPS to hire an additional 829 caseworkers and give significant pay raises to existing caseworkers. But the work was not done. The agency required legislative solutions as well.

Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus, appointed a bipartisan task force of legislators to study issues within DFPS and find solutions to resolve them.

As Chairman of the Human Services Committee, which oversees DFPS, Representative Richard Peña Raymond was called on by the Speaker to lead the task force. Using his decades of experience in the Legislature, Raymond guided the group in developing a multi-pronged approach to improving agency functions to protect some of the most vulnerable children in the state.

When the 85th Legislature began in January, Child Protective Services and the Texas foster care system were at the forefront of the discussion. Governor Greg Abbott made CPS and foster care an emergency item allowing legislators to begin working on these issues early.

During the session, Raymond worked alongside other House members and Senators to craft solutions developed by the task force into legislation that strengthens the foster care system and offers a better future for these children.

Numerous bills were passed addressing CPS and foster care including:

HB 4 – Provides financial assistance to family members who care for a child removed from their home. Kinship placements experience fewer disruptions, better outcomes for children, and shorter lengths of stay compared to the traditional foster care system.

HB 5 – Establishes DFPS as a standalone agency. This restructuring will improve the pace of decision-making in abuse and neglect investigations and afford an organizational flexibility for DFPS to manage its service delivery and workforce more effectively.  With greater oversight and direct reporting to the Governor, the agency will continue focus on quality timely investigations.

HB 7 – Reforms the court processes and procedures for child welfare suits. By clarifying the child protection services suits, motions and services by DFPS, children and families can be reunited faster. This bill would also create greater flexibility in the licensing of foster care providers, so as to aid in growing much needed capacity.

SB 11 – Provides for the expansion of community based care (CBC) and transfer case management function from the state to the CBC provider. Improves the process for a child entering the state’s care to receive an initial medical exam not later than the third business day after the date of removal in certain high-risk situations.

Governor Abbott signed these reforms into law soon after session to ensure DFPS could quickly get to work implementing the new laws.

 

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