The Texas Senate and House of Representatives unanimously voted to pass bills for reform of Child Protective Services. During the State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott noted “over one hundred deaths” of children in foster care services within the last year.
A CPS reform was one of the four policies Texas Gov. Greg Abbott listed as emergency items for the legislative session.
“You will cast thousands of votes this session. Few will involve life or death decisions. Your vote on CPS is one of them,” Abbott said during the State of the State Address January 31.
The reform would feature a complete overhaul of Child Protective Services.
House Bill 4 intends to lower the financial barriers to kinship care. It would provide a monthly stipend to families who provide care to children, creating an incentive for them to remain in a more permeate setting instead of floating through the foster care system.
House Bill 5 would make the Department of Family and Protective Services its own agency, where it would report directly to Gov. Abbott. This would negate the bureaucracy and allow greater funding opportunities.
House Bill 6 serves to establish a working relationship between state and local foster care communities. It recognizes every community operates differently, with different organizations willing to serve children around the state.
Kathleen Crow, communication studies senior, is working with Austin Angels, a foster care organization that serves children in the greater Austin area, including San Marcos.
“A child in foster care will move seven times in a period of two years,” Crow said.
Austin Angels serves by facilitating meetings between families and volunteers and establishing relationships. Members participate in buying groceries or donating toys and entertainment tools for the children.
“Foster care is big, and it’s messy,” Crow said. “What’s unique about Austin Angels is we decide what’s the most amount of good we can do, without jumping through all the hoops.”
There are over 3,000 children in the greater Austin area in the foster care system, and these bills would help organizations and foster care advocates such as Crow.
Through her involvement in the foster care system, Crow has decided to foster a child. She receives the child in nine months.
“I never thought, at 21, I would be researching school districts,” Crow said.
She advocates for students to get involved in the foster care system.
“They need a place to stay,” Crow said. “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”
According to the Health and Human Services Committee Report, “Senate Bill 11 addresses the statewide foster care capacity crisis; improves accountability throughout the Texas Child Protective Services system; ensures all children and youth have timely access to appropriate and necessary support and services to improve child safety, permanency and well-being; and enhances foster care redesign, which has produced positive outcomes for children and families. In addition, Senate Bill 11 strengthens and streamlines standards of abuse and neglect investigations regardless of setting, strategically focuses prevention and early intervention resources to the highest needs areas of the state, and encourages more efficient use of data to prevent recurrence of abuse and neglect.”
These bills aim to bring noticeable changes in facility quality, child care and policy change. In addition, reform would attempt to combat the challenges social workers encounter within the CPS field.
CPS social workers work many hours and travel thousands of miles to handle cases on a day-to-day basis, and one Texas State lecturer said salary is below par.
“The salary has always been an issue, even since the beginning. I hope these bills better compensate the social workers who are out there helping families,” said Joseph Papick, social work lecturer.
These problems often drive CPS social workers to leave the field, only to have a new employee come in and resume the casework. This has led to an overwhelmingly high turnover rate.
According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the CPS caseworker turnover rate in 2015 was 25.7 percent.
“(The turnover rate) is as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” said Judith Burns, social work lecturer with over fifty years of CPS experience.
The Child Protective Services reform has growing support by Texas lawmakers, social workers with CPS backgrounds and advocates for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.
“(If the bills pass), students obtaining BSWs and MSWs at Texas State will want to work for CPS or other agencies that serve children and youth,” Burns said.
To keep up with Kathleen’s story, she has made a blog for the public to follow her foster journey. Her blog can be located at http://gardenofgrace.org/
To see about volunteering with Austin Angels: https://austinangels.com/volunteer