Friday, November 4, 2016

Court-Appointed Experts Tell Texas How to Fix Its Foster Care Problem

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2016 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK, SARAH FLOOD-BAUMANN
  • Shutterstock, Sarah Flood-Baumann

By now, everyone seems to agree that Texas’ foster care program is a disaster.


First it was a 2011 lawsuit a children's advocacy group filed against the state, which triggered a blistering opinion written by a federal judge last December. Then came a letter from Gov. Greg Abbott and other top officials demanding the program make immediate changes — which was then followed by state Sen. John Whitmire’s request to send Texas Rangers out to save neglected foster kids.


Everyone knew the system was in need of an urgent fix, but no one could say exactly what that looked like. Now, they may finally have an answer.


On Friday, a pair of court-appointed children's rights experts released a list of recommendations to repair the state's foster care system. Their 13-page report gives the Department of Family and Protective Services a year and a half to make at least 30 substantial—and costly—changes. 


The so-called "special masters," Kevin Ryan and Francis McGovern, were appointed by federal district court judge Janis Jack in April, shortly after she ruled that Texas' foster care system violated children’s rights. Jack gave them six months to investigate the program and come up with a list of solutions.


Their recommendations are that caseworkers cut their workload in half to increase their face time with foster kids and that they work harder to keep young children in “family-like settings.” The report also suggested that all state-funded foster homes—where most teenage foster kids end up—have no more than six kids at a time and 24-hour adult supervision.


If followed, the special masters’ plan would undoubtedly require DFPS to ask the state for more funding. DFPS already has a $40 million budget gap, and its Child Protective Services department just asked for a hefty $2 million bump in next year’s budget.


Texas lawmakers, outraged by the flailing foster care program, still believe DFPS doesn’t need any more money— it’s just terrible at its job.

“You have the resources, I can tell you, I can find the resources in your budget by establishing the priorities,” Sen. Jane Nelson told CPS staffers at a Senate Finance Committee meeting last week.


The state already wasn’t thrilled to finance the special masters’ investigation in the first place—Attorney General Ken Paxton initially tried to block Judge Jack’s request, saying it would be a waste of state dollars. Now, the special masters have delivered a recommendation that may require even more financial backing. The state has yet to file its response to the findings. 


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