March 16, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
In Texas, bold declarations of a legislative intent to make sweeping changes to Child Protective Services are slowly giving way to caution about spending (Dallas Morning News, 3/11/17). Hey, this is Texas. Is anyone surprised?
The scandal that has for years been the state’s agency for protecting vulnerable children finally came to a head almost two years ago amid press reports of children dying in foster care and parental care, children being housed in office buildings, caseworkers saddled with caseloads in the 40s, a federal judge ruling the entire mess a violation of children’s civil rights and reports that annual caseworker turnover had reached an astounding 30%. Finally, the governor appointed an agency director whose job was to recommend needed changes.
Shortly thereafter, it was announced that $88 million in emergency funds would be budgeted to hire new caseworkers and give raises to existing ones. Good so far, but no one believes that simply hiring more employees is all that’s required to fix an agency that for years has been mired in the deepest dysfunction. That too will require money and the Republican-led state legislature is notoriously loathe to allocate new funds.
Legislative budget writers haven't yet agreed to pay for a major overhaul of either Texas' beleaguered Child Protective Services agency or its much-criticized foster care system.
With the session fast approaching the halfway mark, the only thing House and Senate budget writers are virtually certain to pay for is two more years' worth of the emergency pay raises and new hires that state GOP leaders granted to CPS in December.
But that's only about one-quarter of the new money that the Department of Family and Protective Services, CPS' parent agency, has said it needs in the next budget cycle to rein in abuse of vulnerable children and elderly Texans.
House leaders responded with claims that they’re taking a deliberate approach in order to do the job right.
"We want to be sure that if we're going to be throwing money into the department, that the department is doing the things that need to be done to attract and retain high-quality personnel," House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said Friday.
"We recognize [the department] is in crisis," he said in an interview. "We're far from finished."
Fair enough. The session is far from over and there’s clearly time to at least take a stab at fixing what’s broken. We’ll see what happens.
Zerwas spoke a day after Rep. Donna Howard, a key Democratic budget writer, pointed out that an appropriations subcommittee refused to commit a single dollar to funding any of the department's entire $1 billion request for "exceptional items."
What are those “exceptional items?”
They include higher rates for foster care providers; expansion of "foster care redesign," a new procurement model that engages local communities to volunteer to be foster parents; new monthly "kinship care" checks for relatives who take in abused kids; expanded prevention efforts; spreading the pay raises to 321 front-line CPS workers who were left out; and hiring nearly 1,200 more.
In short, what some see as “exceptional items” to others (like me) look like the requisites of a competent child protective agency. That not a penny has yet been budgeted for those items bodes ill for real reform of an agency that’s failed children and Texas’ taxpayers all too often in the past.
And that budgetary failure looks like it may portend another issue I’ve raised – the possibility of a conflict of federalism between the federal judiciary in the person of Corpus Christi Federal Judge Janis Jack and the state legislature.
U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi, in finding 15 months ago that Texas thrusts foster children in CPS' permanent custody into unconstitutionally unsafe conditions, is expected to demand a huge reduction in conservatorship workers' caseloads.
Jack, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, also is likely to order Texas to expand capacity in foster care. Over the past two decades, the state has gone from spending about 38 percent of the national average for a state to spend on child welfare to just under 50 percent.
Jack of course has the power to issue orders for the state to do certain things and spend certain money to rectify its illegal system of child protection. (It’s illegal because Jack so found over a year ago.) That could easily set up a federal-state conflict that no one would find conducive to children’s welfare.
Meanwhile, the Lone Star State is sitting on a $12 billion “Rainy Day” fund. I don’t know what legislators’ definition of a rainy day is, but if children being killed and abused isn’t it, I’d like to know what is.
On that front,
At the appropriations meeting, Howard said, "I'm going to continue to remind us that these are self-imposed limitations and that this was a crisis that everybody has determined is a crisis, including the speaker."
Looks like rain to me.
By the way, the linked-to article is yet another fine piece on Texas CPS by Robert Garrett. If you’re so inclined, drop him a note and thank him for his excellent reporting.
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