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Home | Tag Archives: texas foster care

Tag Archives: texas foster care

Study: Texas Foster Care System has High Teen Pregnancy Rate

AUSTIN  – Teen girls in Texas foster care are almost five times more likely to become pregnant than other teens, according to a new study.

The “Fostering Healthy Texas Lives” report says the high pregnancy rate is jeopardizing teens’ health and education and puts them at high risk of having their baby removed by Child Protective Services.

Kate Murphy, senior child welfare policy associate at Texans Care for Children, says their research discovered several factors that put young girls in foster care at a higher risk.

“Youth in foster care move from home to home and school to school and may not be getting consistent information about reproductive health and may not be learning how to develop healthy relationships,” she says. “A lot of them have experienced trauma, which can sometimes lead to risky behaviors.”

The report, from the nonprofit Texans Care for Children, was derived from available state and national data as well as conducting surveys, focus groups and interviews with youth and adults involved in Texas foster care. Murphy says they found that not only does teen pregnancy in foster care often leads to a life of welfare involvement, but the children born to foster-care teens are twice as likely to enter the foster care system themselves.

She says the report finds that foster-care teens often do not get the help and support they need from counselors at the state’s Child Protective Services agency.

“They want guidance,” she adds. “They expect it from their caseworker, from their foster parent, their lawyer or their doctor, their CASA. But when we talked to providers, a lot of them feel ill-equipped; they don’t know how to answer questions about this topic.”

Murphy says while the teen pregnancy rate in foster care is statistically significant, the actual number of girls who need extra support to care for their children is relatively small.

“The state has the resources to support 218 young families, and that investment is going to pay off when it comes to future earning potential, health-care costs for future child welfare involvement – you name it,” she explains.

She says other policy recommendations in the report include programs that provide pregnancy prevention through education on healthy relationships, better access to prenatal health services, and better support and coaching for pregnant and parenting youth.

Kids’ Advocates Blast State’s Appeal of Foster-Care Ruling

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Children’s advocates are crying foul after state officials appealed a federal judge’s ruling mandating numerous changes to the state’s foster care system.

The order describes the system as “still broken,” and lists additional steps to protect abused and neglected children. The Texas Legislature approved a package of improvements last year, but the court says the measures failed to address all the problems.

Will Francis, government relations director with the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, says Attorney General Ken Paxton’s immediate appeal to block the order shows that state officials are not yet committed to doing the right thing.

“Overall, they made sure that child welfare was a primary focus. And the fact that our attorney general is saying, ‘Well, that’s enough,’ and that we’re really not owning these really horrible outcomes for kids in the long-term care of the state – it does not send the message that we really want to fix things,” says Francis.

The same US District Court Judge – Janis Jack in Corpus Christi – ruled in 2015 that the Texas foster care system violated children’s civil rights. The new ruling orders that caseworkers must visit each foster child at least once a month, puts limits on their caseloads and mandates an increase in staffing levels.

In his appeal, Paxton criticized the ruling, saying an unelected judge had “improperly assume(d) control of a state institution.”

Francis says the 65,000 victims of abuse or neglect seen each year in Texas are poorly served when everyone involved isn’t working toward a common goal.

“The fact that we’re all not at the table together fixing this, I think, is really just a disservice to kids,” he says. “And I think that’s going to be a major stumbling block going forward, to really and truly transform this.”

He adds the state must provide better immediate and long term help to kids in crisis.

“At the end of the day, I think that everybody needs to have a voice and this – advocates need to be at the table, the state needs to be at the table, I think the judge’s concerns need to be part of what we talk about,” says Francis. “And from my own perspective as a social worker, I know that we have to have the right people out there doing this job.”

The judge also appointed two special masters to monitor and report on the state’s progress in implementing the order over the next three years.

Author: Mark Richardson – Public News Service (TX)

Texas Argues it can fix Foster Care Without Judge’s Oversight

A new legal filing from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has put Texas leaders in a delicate position of conceding problems in foster care but arguing against a federal judge’s proposed reforms.

Texas’ Republican attorney general, faced with a mounting crisis in the state’s child welfare system, on Tuesday published a scathing critique of costly, court-ordered reforms meant to improve the conditions of children in the state’s long-term foster care system.

Lawyers for the state argued that the court’s proposed reforms — first ordered by a federal district judge, then laid out by a pair of “special masters” hired, against the state’s wishes, on Texas’ dime — are an example of egregious federal overreach.

The move puts the state’s Republican leaders in a delicate position: While they concede that the foster care system’s underlying problems are a pressing matter, they argue it’s one they can address on their own. That’s despite the fact that the system has been broken — and worsening — for years under their tenure.

In a new legal filing on Tuesday, part of the long-running class-action lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott and the child welfare system writ large, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton‘s office objected to the special masters’ recommendations, calling them “over-broad” and saying there is no proof they will work. The special masters have recommended lowering caseloads for child welfare workers and hiring more of them to pick up the slack.

Those recommendations were among those broadly outlined by U.S. District Judge Janis Jack of Corpus Christi, who wrote in a December 2015 opinion that the state’s long-term foster care system had violated children’s constitutional right to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm. Children in the state’s current system, she wrote, “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.”

Lawyers for the state, though acknowledging that the foster care system has room for improvement, disputed Jack’s ruling, writing in Tuesday’s filing that the alleged constitutional violations “are unsupported by reliable expert testimony or other competent, admissible evidence.” They argue Jack’s findings were “too vague” to support the remedies recommended by special masters.

The children’s rights advocates suing the state expressed dismay with the latest filing.

“Sadly, the state wants to keep fighting, rather than start fixing its system for these children,” Paul Yetter, a lead attorney on the case, wrote in an email.

Texas leaders have said they are fully capable of reforming the state’s child welfare system on their own, without any meddling from the federal judicial system.

Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus have all vowed to take up a reform-minded agenda when state lawmakers convene in Austin in 2017. Hank Whitman, the newly appointed head of the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees child welfare, has asked lawmakers for funding to hire 550 additional investigators and offer significant pay raises to front-line caseworkers.

“It’s unfortunate and disappointing that millions of dollars that could have gone to serving youth in the Texas foster care system and hiring more caseworkers will now be spent towards the legally baseless special master process,” an Abbott spokesman told The Texas Tribune in May. The two special masters were expected to be paid $345 an hour over a six-month period.

In previous filings, state officials conceded there was room for improvement in Texas foster care. Still, they said the system’s failings did not rise to the level of civil rights violations, arguing the shortcomings were not enough to “shock the conscience.”

“It is true that Texas’ foster care system needs improvement in certain areas,” lawyers for the state wrote in their previous appeal. “But the same could be said of most states’ foster care systems.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Reference Material

Texas’ Objections to Foster Care Recommendations
(169.7 KB) DOWNLOAD

Author: EDGAR WALTERS – The Texas Tribune

State Leaders order Child Protective Services Overhaul

Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders ordered the Department of Family and Protective Services Wednesday to ramp up efforts to protect endangered foster children and curb the backlog of ones waiting for homes.

Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus released a joint letter to department Commissioner Hank Whitman directing him to immediately develop a plan to hire and train more special investigators to take up the backlog of at-risk kids who have not had a face-to-face interaction with Child Protective Services.

The lawmakers are also calling on the agency to create a hiring and training schedule to get more caseworkers out into the field and to continue working closely with community organizations. The lawmakers also called recent news of children sleeping in hotels and CPS offices “unacceptable.”

The letter comes just eight days after DFPS publicly released numbers showing nearly a thousand at-risk children under CPS care were not checked on once over the course of six months. That report also found that caseworkers did not see 1,800 children within 24-hours of hearing reports of alleged abuse or mistreatment.

“We also will not tolerate inferior residential foster care operations,” the state leaders wrote in the letter. “The state’s residential providers must be held to the highest standards while caring for our most vulnerable or no longer operate in our system.”

While Abbott and other state leaders are calling on the agency to move forward on a plan regardless of budget concerns, it’s unclear how soon the department will step up its efforts with a looming $40 million budget shortfall and already overworked caseworkers.

State leaders also directed Whitman to “reinforce the culture of accountability” by making sure staffers “rise to the challenge” ahead. The lawmakers gave a nod to the department’s financial constraints but stressed “we have a responsibility to find and protect these vulnerable Texans as soon as possible.”

Whitman said in an emailed statement that he appreciates lawmakers’ “acknowledgement of the many difficult issues we face” but added that “protecting children is our highest priority.”

“We have to do better,” Whitman said. “All of our energies are focused on making this right and putting the safety and welfare of children first, no matter what.”

Hours after the letter was released, Patrick called on the Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to receive the department’s plans. Nelson quickly scheduled an Oct. 26 hearing of her committee to take up the issue.

“We need to better understand what investments are working and what improvements are needed,” Nelson said in a statement. “We need an action plan that will keep children safe.”

Kate Murphy, senior policy associate for child protection for Texans Care for Children, said in an emailed statement that “caseworker turnover and kids bouncing from one placement to another are challenges the state can overcome.” She said while it was good to see state leaders alarmed about the department’s challenges, it’s also important to look at increasing caseworker pay and foster children access to health services.

“We’re glad to see a bipartisan consensus that CPS needs additional funding starting in September of next year,” Murphy said. “The Commissioner and state leaders should evaluate whether CPS needs more funding in the next 11 months to boost salaries and hire more caseworkers to start addressing the crisis right away.”

Miriam Nisenbaum, executive director for the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said CPS needs a strong workforce with a variety of backgrounds in areas like behavioral health and social work. Yet a recent decision to scale back the agency’s caseworker education requirements has undermined that goal.

The letter from state leaders released Wednesday ordered the department to hire more investigators with law enforcement backgrounds.

“I’m not sure a law enforcement background will give you the tools you need to work with the families a lot of the CPS workers end up dealing with,” Nisenbaum said.

Read more of the Tribune’s related coverage:

  • The state’s child welfare agency faces a $40 million budget shortfall, a critical shortage of good homes for foster children and overwhelming caseloads for staff, agency leaders told state lawmakers at a hearing in April.
  • In a wide-ranging interview, Hank Whitman, the new commissioner overseeing the Department of Family and Protective Services, explained how he thinks he can turn around a child welfare agency in crisis.

Author:   – The Texas Tribune

Texas Caseworkers Call For Foster Care Reforms

Texas officials are fighting tooth and nail against court-ordered, potentially costly reforms to the state’s foster care system — a position that’s drawn fierce criticism from child welfare advocates.

Now a new group has joined the chorus lambasting the state for resisting those reforms: its own employees who work with children in foster care.

Current and retired Child Protective Services caseworkers gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday, urging Texas leaders to call off their appeal of a federal district judge’s ruling that would require Texas to hire more employees who keep track of children in long-term foster care.

Caseworkers say they are dangerously overburdened by the state, having to keep tabs on more children than they are physically able to.

“Our ability to do our job is undercut by the unmanageable workloads that we are saddled with,” said Susan Rial, an Arlington-based caseworker, at a news conference organized by the Texas State Employees Union. “There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for us to spend on each child, family and client.”

U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled in December that Texas’ long-term foster care system violated children’s civil rights, finding that children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.” She ordered the state to appoint a “special master” to suggest various reforms to the system, which would include actions to lower state employees’ caseloads.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency overseeing foster care, has said the judge’s ruling in the lawsuit, first brought against the state in 2011, ignores years of system improvements.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is arguing that elected officials in Texas — not a federal judge — should be left to decide what, if any, reforms are necessary. Lawyers for the state in January asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for permission not to comply with the mandated reforms.

Paxton’s office has called the federal judge’s ruling a “misguided federal takeover of the Texas foster-care system.”

Caseworkers said Wednesday that the lengthy legal battle would harm vulnerable children.

“While the appeals process drags on, vulnerable Texas kids will continue to fall through the cracks,” Judy Lugo, the union’s president, said in a statement. “This is unacceptable for those on the front lines of the agency who work every day to protect clients and help families.”

The union represents 1,250 of the agency’s 12,700 employees.

Advocacy group Texans Care for Children said Wednesday that department data showed the state had made “small steps” in recent years to improve caseloads, but said more funding to hire caseworkers was still necessary. Foster care caseloads fell from 31 per worker in 2014 to 28 the year after, according to the group.

“When children have been through abuse or neglect and then removal from their homes, they shouldn’t have to compete with 27 other vulnerable children for the support of a single CPS caseworker,” Stephanie Rubin, the Texans Care for Children’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Author:   – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

Judge: Foster Care System violates Children’s Rights

Texas has violated the constitutional rights of foster children by exposing them to an unreasonable risk of harm in a system where children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered,” a federal judge ruled Thursday.

“Years of abuse, neglect and shuttling between inappropriate placements across the state has created a population that cannot contribute to society, and proves a continued strain on the government through welfare, incarceration or otherwise,” U.S. District Judge Janis Jack of Corpus Christi wrote in a decision as strongly worded as it was hotly anticipated.

The ruling came a full year after the case went to trial, and Texas is expected to appeal within 30 days. If it stands, Jack’s order could mean costly reforms for Texas and its Child Protective Services division.

At any given time, about 28,000 children are wards of the state.

Jack ordered child welfare officials to implement reforms to ensure that foster children are protected and said she will appoint a “special master” to ensure compliance. That overseer will be paid for by the state.

The order directs the state to hire enough caseworkers for long-term foster care children “to ensure that caseloads are manageable” in all of the state’s 254 counties. Just how many caseworkers that will take is a question left to the special master, who will be required to study how much time caseworkers need to do their jobs adequately.

Advocates for foster children have long accused the state of stretching its caseworkers too thin to effectively protect their wards. The court also ordered the state to improve caseworkers’ turnover rate and said those workers should be able to spend more than 26 percent of their time with foster children.

Foster care reform advocates said they were thrilled with the ruling in the class-action lawsuit, brought by the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights Inc. in 2011 on behalf of all Texas children in long-term foster care.

“From a national perspective, what is stunning about this decision is how clearly the judge has documented the profound and longstanding problems in the Texas child welfare system and how thoroughly her order is going to address those problems,” said Marcia Lowry, the former executive director of Children’s Rights and one of the lead attorneys on the case.

“It is enormously significant,” she said.

Ashley Harris, a Child Protection Policy Associate at the advocacy group Texans Care for Children and a former CPS caseworker, said the ruling “correctly identified a number of achievable steps that Texas can take to provide the safety and support these children need.”

Julie Moody, in a statement for the Department of Family and Protective Services that oversees the foster program, said the agency was “obviously disappointed with the ruling, because great progress has been achieved improving the Texas foster care system. Texas performs comparably with other states in this area, and has steadily improved.

“The children in our care come to us after suffering horrific abuse and neglect, and we use all available state resources to protect and nurture them. We will continue to work constantly to find permanent homes for all of our foster children. “

Jack also directed the state to stop placing certain children in unsafe settings such as foster group homes that lack 24-hour awake-night supervision. While that order is in place, the special master will make a recommendation about whether group homes should continue to operate at all, depending on a determination from the special master about whether they cause “an unreasonable risk of harm” to foster children.

The order may carry a hefty price tag, though it is unclear just how expensive complying with it would be. The state did not immediately provide a cost estimate; Jack wrote in her opinion that the reforms could save the state money in the long run.

The court ordered other reforms at the state agency, such as implementing policies that allow children to speak privately to Child Protective Services staff and improving outreach to children who age out of foster care. The Department of Family and Protective Services was also ordered to track child-on-child abuse and improve the organization and consistency with which it maintains foster children’s case files.

And at institutional residential treatment facilities, foster children with significantly different needs can no longer be placed in the same room, according to the court’s order. For example, a child classified by the state as “moderate” may not share a room with a child whose needs are considered “intense.” The court also ordered Texas to track how many children are in each residential facility.

Jack did allow the state’s efforts to privatize foster care, known as foster care “redesign,” to continue — but only if the special master finds that the program is adequately protecting children’s civil rights.

Texas’ roughly $1.2 billion-per-year Child Protective Services division, with about 8,000 employees, is one of the nation’s largest child abuse investigation and foster care teams. Independent child welfare advocates had said a ruling in favor of Children’s Rights could require significant changes at the agency, raising questions about whether state lawmakers would need to reconvene during a special legislative session to implement — and allocate money for — reforms.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

Authors:  and  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, pol itics, government and statewide issues.

Texas takes lead helping kids in foster care

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows how states can make sure children living in foster care have the same opportunities as their peers, and Texas is ahead of the curve.

In the last session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1407, a law that makes it easier for children to do things others take for granted, such as playing sports or having an after school job.

Andy Homer, director of public affairs with the Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates, says the goal is to level the playing field by removing unnecessary restrictions.

“It continues to create additional barriers to healthy emotional and mental health development,” he states. “We want all these kids in the system to participate in the same activities that every other child is able to do.”

Homer says foster parents were required to do background checks on families before children could attend a sleepover.

When fully implemented, SB 1407 will put Texas in compliance with the Strengthening Families Act, a measure passed by Congress in 2014 to improve the experiences of children in foster care.

The Casey Foundation report, “What Young People Need to Thrive,” compiles recommendations from people across the nation who experienced foster care directly. They say children need connections to family and the ability to make more decisions for themselves.

The report found because children frequently have a history of trauma, foster parents also need additional training.

Todd Lloyd, a senior policy associate with the Casey Foundation, says because the state acts as legal guardian, concerns about liability have often kept young people in foster care from activities that help children feel like they belong.

“Because it has been a system oriented toward safety, protecting children, that it’s very easy to create policies that are overly restrictive out of concern for safety and also the liability,” he points out.

Author: Eric Galatas, Public News Service

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