Lately, we’ve been reading about foster children sleeping in Child Protection Services offices, as if our child welfare crisis is sleeping in offices. Sleeping in CPS offices is a symptom of the real crisis, which is that today 524 children do not have foster care practices. This shortage of practices is a symptom of even deeper and more complex challenges that put the entire foster care system, which serves 30,000 children, at risk. Many factors have led us to such terrible circumstances.
First, Texas ’foster care system has been the subject of litigation since 2011, alleging violations of children’s rights. The case is before federal Judge Janice Graham Jack, who ruled that Texas in fact violated the rights of foster children by subjecting them to abuse, excessive medication, and repetitions.
The system needed reform and, while well-intentioned, there have been many unintended consequences arising from Judge Jack’s orders.
For example, the additional regulations ordered by the judge have led to an increase in citations for infractions, some minor, with little or no due process. While these appointments are intended to improve security, it has not been transparent as to how providers can address these violations.
These regulations have increased costs, in the hope that the state will continue to pick up the ever-increasing tab. Meanwhile, the new regulations have shifted the attention of suppliers to provide quality care, the intention of demand, to pursue the changing and elusive paper tiger of compliance.
As a result, several poor quality suppliers have just been shut down, but we are also losing much of the existing quality capacity that was insufficient to begin with.
At the same time, the Texas legislature is moving forward with the privatization of the foster care system, known as community care, in which the state pays regional private entities to administer foster care instead of the state. Given this new environment, contracting entities may not receive sufficient reimbursement to care for children, cover costs, and absorb regulatory risk. We must be prepared in case of failure and ask ourselves what the alternative will be if privatization is not successful.
We cannot continue to point out the situation we find ourselves in because of our collective inability to solve the problem. Immediate action is needed.
· First, the legislature needs to move quickly and approve a $ 90 million proposal to increase payments to foster care providers next year by 10%. However, $ 90 million a year is not nearly enough to cover the cost of quality care or to increase the number of beds. The current tariff structure is significantly obsolete and dates back to the 1980s.
· Extra beds need to be generated quickly. Texas can expand these beds by relying on approved relatives to care for foster children. However, relatives only receive compensation at half the proportion of foster care providers. The legislature should approve monetary assistance for relatives that is equal to other foster care providers.
· Local governments can play a funding role through American Rescue Plan aid dollars. It is the same responsibility to care for the children in your community.
· And there must be a clear and documented path to achieving capacity, quality and due process for suppliers. That is, a path that Governor and Judge Jack accept and that is implemented in collaboration with the Department of Family Protection Services and the Health and Human Services Commission, with all parties and stakeholders in the table.
The vision is for all children to be safe at home. But when children are cared for by the state, we must provide a safe haven that prevents additional trauma. We cannot let politics stop us from doing better for our children.
Sophie Phillips is the CEO of TexProtects. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.