PANEL LOOKS AT FOSTER CARE AND CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES REFORM BILL
(AUSTIN) — Members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee considered a bill aimed at fixing the state's beleaguered child protective services and foster care systems Thursday. Committee Chair Charles Schwertner of Georgetown, who authored the measure, cited a litany of issues that led to the need for reform. "The Department of Family and Protective Services has been under immense scrutiny in recent months due to children sleeping in CPS offices, going weeks or even months without being seen by case workers, and languishing in psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers, rather than residing in safe, loving homes," he said.
Senator Charles Schwertner led the effort to study how to improve foster care and child protective services over the interim, culminating in SB 11.
Foster care reform is based around single source continuum contractors (SSCC) which are non-profit organizations with a focus on child welfare who contract with the state to oversee the foster care system in a certain region of the state. These organizations would handle most services a child in foster care needs to access, from court appearances to health care to family visits and would ensure coordination between all providers and adequacy of service. Contracts with these organizations must include outcome-based benchmarks and have adequate capacity in their system to meet regional needs.
This system has been tested in the north region of the state, where ACH Child and Family Services has managed the foster care system in the Fort Worth area. ACH CEO Dr. Wayne Carson touted the program's success so far in testimony before the committee. He said that 99.9 percent of foster kids in the region have been safe in foster homes, and 94 percent have had stability in placement, defined as a single home in a 24 month period.
In expanding this model to other regions of the state, the Department of Family and Protective Services would have to develop strict criteria for assessing the ability of an SSCC to manage foster programs. This would include the ability to provide case management services and sufficient capacity to meet the needs of a region.
The bill also seeks to improve the abuse prevention services in Texas through increased accountability and quality control. It would require the creation of a quality assessment division at DFPS to monitor outside contracts as well as a workforce division to monitor workforce trends and shortages within the agency. It also gives the CPS Investigation Division authority to investigate abuse and neglect cases in the foster care system and requires that by 2018 any child taken from a home for abuse or neglect receive a complete medical examination with three days of removal.
Also Thursday, the Senate State Affairs Committee heard hours of testimony on a bill to end the practice of sanctuary cities in Texas. The bill, SB 4 by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, would prohibit local governments from enacting formal or informal policies that prohibit or discourage police officers from inquiring about the immigration status of lawfully arrested persons or cooperating with federal immigration officials. Perry said the issue is one of rule of law, and officials can't pick and choose what laws they enforce. Critics of the bill testified before the committee that they worry this measure will erode the trust between the community and law enforcement and overburden local police departments. Hundreds of private citizens signed up to testify before the committee, and testimony is expected to extend late into the night. Before taking up SB 4, the committee gave unanimous approval to Plano Senator Van Taylor's SB 14, which would beef up ethics rules for elected officials.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 6 at 2 p.m.