Advocate on child welfare bill: ‘We are optimistic because a community-driven foster care model is the right approach for our community’


If the Texas House of Representatives does not approve SB 1896 before the end of the current legislative session, monitoring by a federal court could continue in perpetuity, according to a child welfare advocate. Some 2,094 children and youth in the Texas foster care system—4.6% of children in DFPS conservatorship—went missing at some point during 2020. Among these children, 136 reported being victimized during the time they were missing, and 68 became victims of sex trafficking,  according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

“If nothing gets better, we could be under monitoring indefinitely, which is very destabilizing to our system because all the stakeholders, including Child Protective Services (CPS), are trying to comply with federal court orders rather than planning for what a better system will look like and how to get there,” said Brandon Logan, executive director of One Accord for Kids in Midland.

SB 1896, sponsored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and unanimously approved by the Senate on April 27, would create an independent office of community-based care (CBC) transition, and allow for a legislative oversight committee to ensure full transitioning to CBC.

The independent office would be tasked with, among other things, developing a plan for CBC implementation across different regions of the state, evaluating CBC providers, measuring performance and reporting outcomes, according to the bill.

“We’ve created an industrial complex around the foster care system that we need to shift to child-focused from adult-focused and community-based care is the best path forward to that, which is why there have been delays and perhaps even sabotage,” Logan told Dallas Express. “The legislative oversight committee will provide some ongoing supervision and leadership as we move the state into this new model.”

Federal monitoring of the foster care system and CPS began after M.D. vs. Abbott was filed in Corpus Christi’s U.S. District Court of the Southern District in 2011 by Children’s Rights.

A Texas Tech report previously commissioned by the legislature affirms Logan’s description, with characterizations that the implementation of CBC by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and CPS has been “random, chaotic, overly centralized and lacking an overall implementation strategy.”

While testifying at the Senate hearing, Logan made three recommendations in support of the proposal.

“Sen. Kolkhorst responded very favorably during the hearing,” Logan said in an interview. “The bill was passed out of that committee unanimously in the Senate. There were some positive changes that were made and now it’s pending in the House Human Services Committee. It was heard this week.”

Logan’s three recommendations are as follows:

– Refocus community-based care to expand community authority and autonomy, increase stability and predictability, and improve funding and contracting.

“The CPS agency shouldn’t be in charge of its own demise, or should not be responsible for assessing itself because the agency is responsible for implementing something that eventually replaces 80% of its workforce,” Logan said.

– Integrate child welfare services (including community-based care) in the community and public health ecosystem by consolidating DFPS and Texas Health and Human Services.

“Before 2017, the agency was a division of health and human services and it wanted to be a standalone agency,” Logan said. “The Legislature did that for them and, to me, that has created a mess because now you have two different agencies that are responsible for different things with regard to the same population.”

– Independently monitor and evaluate the continuum of child welfare services and reforms to address exigencies and provide stability.

“Government agencies in general, and CPS in particular, have been less than transparent in the past and that’s one of the things that got the agency in trouble with the federal court,” Logan said.

Some 76% of registered Texas voters support the community-based foster care model, an increase from 62% expressing support for the model in March of 2020, according to a recent poll.

“We are optimistic because a community-driven foster care model is the right approach for our community,” Logan said. “SB 1896 addresses the persistent challenges that DFPS has had in implementing a community-driven system of care. It does this by expanding placement resources and capacity across the state — including in regions that are contemplating CBC — improving the quality of residential services, aligning Community-Cased Care with the broader community and public health ecosystem under Health and Human Services (HHSC), and improving strategic planning and contract oversight.”

For example, Our Community Our Kids (OCOK) in Fort Worth, a division of ACH Child and Family Services, is in the process of expanding CBC into Region 3b and as a result has seen positive outcomes for its children in foster care, according to OCOK data.  This includes an increase in foster home placement stability, new capacity for teens who need residential treatment and a 36% increase in foster home capacity in rural areas. Region 3b comprises Erath, Hood, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Parker, Somervell and Tarrant counties.

“The point of the transition to community-based care is that it is an outcomes based model so no longer is the state paying for efforts because that hasn’t worked and actually got the state sued in federal court,” Logan noted. “As a result, now we’re judging providers at the regional level based on the outcomes they can produce for children.”

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