Texas is reportedly facing a shortage of licensed foster care beds.
In January, the state saw an average of nearly 50 “children without placements” (CWOP) — children in the care of Child Protective Services (CPS) who don’t have relatives, foster families, or facilities — according to the Department of Family and Protective Services, reported The Dallas Morning News (DMN).
Throughout the month, 171 different foster kids spent a minimum of two consecutive nights at makeshift, unlicensed facilities, according to the DMN.
The figure is an improvement from record highs seen in July 2021, when 416 children were without placements.
As reported by The Dallas Express, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack wants to see the number of CWOPs reduced to zero by June. Jack has threatened to hold the state in contempt if it does not bring the number down.
“I find that having one child in this type of dangerous [unlicensed] placement is unsafe and maybe a matter of contempt hearing in June,” said Jack, as reported by ABC13.
“Now that we’ve improved, we’re back to where we were the first time we started talking about a capacity crisis related to kids sleeping in offices,” said Kate Murphy, director of child protection policy at the advocacy group Texans Care for Children, per the DMN.
Foster kids sleeping in Texas state offices has prompted criticism from childcare advocates for years, and Texas lawmakers have struggled to curtail the problem. Texas lawmakers have introduced over 100 bills focused on improving the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, according to The Texas Tribune.
Two years ago, Texas Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) introduced a bill that persuaded the Legislature to outlaw overnight stays in CPS offices.
In addition, lawmakers added $124 million to the budget to pay foster care providers to meet the bed shortage, but Murphy said there is still a challenge to balance supply and demand.
“Kids aren’t sleeping in offices but they have been sleeping in unregulated rentals, on the floors of churches, in some donated space — like [Dallas-based] Buckner International, like SAFE Alliance shelter here in Austin has donated some space — or in hotel rooms,” said Murphy, per the DMN.
The protective services department has been using expensive “child-specific contracts” to garner placements for foster kids. Between September 2020 to January 2023, the department spent $120.2 million on these contracts, according to the DMN.
“There was one kiddo at least who was court ordered into a placement, and DFPS was ordered to pay that placement $2,000 a day,” Murphy said, according to the DMN. “You know, that adds up really quickly.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), who tracks CPS and foster care, called hotels “an oppressive environment” for CWOP, the DMN reported.
Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) introduced a bill that would discourage using hotels by charging counties for hotel and staffing costs if the county continues to keep the children there. Rep. Liz Campos (D-San Antonio) introduced a bill banning hotel use altogether.
Kolkhorst said that lawmakers are not considering an essential factor in the problem when a child refuses a placement.
“A child in state care shouldn’t be staying in an office overnight,” she said, according to the DMN. “But by the same token, we now have some CWOP children choosing to stay in hotels because they are allowed to decline placement in an appropriate setting when one is available.”