Texas Legislature Makes Changes to Foster Care System

Texas Legislature Makes Changes to Foster Care System.

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Changes to the Texas foster care system have recently been implemented after a federal judge declared that “Texas’s foster care system is broken.”[1] After Hank Whitman, the Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), submitted a ten-point plan to improve child-welfare services, Governor Abbott signed into law four bills impacting DFPS and how the department works with endangered children.[2] One of these bills, Senate Bill 11, makes numerous changes to the Texas foster-care system.

Senate Bill 11

Senate Bill 11 establishes community-based care programs in eight different regions in Texas by the end of 2019.[3] Nonprofit or local government entities, or single-source continuum contractors, in these regions would be responsible for overseeing and managing cases and family-reunification support services within the foster care system instead of DFPS.[4] DFPS must still develop a review process to assess contractors’ performance[5] and create protocols for electronic transfers of data to contractors.[6] The new law aims to provide more localized programs that would achieve many goals in relation to the foster care system, including improving safety, keeping children in their home communities, maintaining contact with family members and other important people, respecting culture, and reunifying families.[7]

Additionally, S.B. 11 created a pilot program for contractors to develop and implement family-based safety services in two regions of the state that must achieve certain outcomes, such as a decrease in recidivism and an increase in protective factors.[8] To establish these programs, grants are also provided for faith-based community collaborative programs.[9]

Immediate Impact and Responses

The responses to S.B. 11 have been mixed. State officials have praised the bill for aiming to bring resources closer to communities and allow children in the foster-care system to stay closer to their home communities and remain near positive support systems such as family and friends.[10] Community-based programs also allow for targeted local approaches, rather than trying to implement one plan across all of Texas.[11] However, critics (including some state representatives) fear that contractors may not have the best interests of the foster children in mind and that the plan was too quickly pulled together.[12] Furthermore, some child-welfare advocates fear that contractors will not be capable of taking on some of the more difficult aspects of placing children, such as finding homes for children with behavioral and mental-health issues.[13] While critics have recognized the success of programs like ACH Child and Family Services, they fear that it will be difficult to replicate this level of success.[14]

In September, state officials relinquished major foster care services in Bexar County and in multiple counties in the Abilene area, following the successful implementation of a state-piloted community-based foster care program in the Fort Worth area.[15]

For the text of these legislative changes (and the other 500+ changes made to the Family Code alone), pick up your copy of O’Connor’s Texas Family Code Plus 2017-2018  today.

[1] M.D. v. Abbott, 152 F.Supp.3d 684, 828 (S.D.Tex.2015).

[2] Marissa Evans, Abbott Signs Bills Aimed at Addressing Crisis in Child Welfare System, Texas Tribune (May 31, 2017); see DFPS Commissioner Plans to Improve CPS, O’Connor’s Annotations (Aug. 29, 2016).

[3]  Tex. Fam. Code §264.157.

[4] Id. §§264.158, 264.161.

[5] Id. §§264.156, 264.162.

[6] Id. §264.159.

[7] Id. §264.151.

[8] Id. §264.169.

[9] Id. §264.2042.

[10] Vicki Spriggs & Anjuli Renold, Working to Make Texas Children Safer, The Eagle (Sept. 28, 2017); Angie Haflich, Texas Looks to Improve Troubled Foster Care System, HPPR (Sept. 7, 2017).

[11] Becky Fogel, A New Texas Law Will Create a More Private Foster Care System, Texas Standard (Sept. 6, 2017).

[12] Julie Chang, State to Hand Over Foster Care Services in Bexar County, Abilene Areas, My Statesman (Sept. 19, 2017).

[13] Evans, Abbott Signs Bills Aimed at Addressing Crisis in Child Welfare System.

[14] Fogel, A New Texas Law Will Create a More Private Foster Care System.

[15] Chang, State to Hand Over Foster Care Services in Bexar County, Abilene Areas.