Senate Child Abuse Committee Reviews Policy, Considers Options to Improve System | News

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Not much has changed since 2017, when Texas shared foster care responsibilities between the Department of Family Protective Services and the Health and Human Services Commission in hopes of revamping a failing system riddled with lawsuits and high turnover.

That’s the conclusion reached this week by John Stephens, CEO of The Stephens Group, a child protection consultancy.

“You’re behind the curve,” Stephens told lawmakers. “I know the commissioner — I spoke to her — has a good idea to move forward on prevention, but for some reason it gets stuck somewhere. In terms of implementation, it takes too long, and what happens is that these children are affected.

Stephens was one of several speakers who appeared before the Texas Senate Select Committee on Child Protective Services on Monday. While CPS has been in the headlines in recent months after a Installing Bastrop was accused of sex trafficking the residents and the agency began investigating the families with transgender youththe meeting was more focused on issues that have plagued the agency for decades and how it can improve the timeliness of its services.

Committee chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst described the state’s child welfare program as “tongued.” Now, lawmakers are seeking to trim several layers of bureaucratic tape that have made the agency difficult and painfully slow to operate, particularly through its current community care facility plan.

Community care is a new way to extend services beyond traditional foster care by giving communities the flexibility to build on local strengths and resources to find innovative ways to meet needs. unique and individual children and their families, according to the DFPS.

Stephens said he’s been advocating such an approach for years, pointing the finger at Florida and other states that have this practice and mindset. But Florida has jumped into statewide implementation, while Texas is taking a phased, region-by-region approach that Stephens and lawmakers say could take another decade to complete. be completed.

Kolkhorst said she didn’t know why it was decided to phase in the change, but it complicated the whole process.

“Whatever you do, be sure to remember — and I know you will — those kids languishing in your system,” Stephens said.

Stephens and other speakers have recommended that Texas focus on building community relationships and relinquishing control to the state level so that local communities and the private sector can work together. It would make for a stronger system, they said.

Stephens also stressed the need for greater flexibility, as current applications for application through DFPS do not allow local entities to build a specialist care system.

“You really have to make sure you trust the community,” Stephens said. “Let the local community, nonprofits and boards tell you what’s best for their children.”

Lawmakers have also heard comments about the agency’s high turnover.

Jennifer Jones, executive director of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, said a report from her office found that DFPS faces a “crisis culture” that prevents the agency from properly and effectively managing all of its core functions.

Because the agency and lawmakers constantly respond to crises and criticism with new policies or initiatives, it hampers social workers’ ability to help children, she said. Jones said employees spend a large part of their day — about 74%, according to The Stephens Group — on paperwork and administrative tasks rather than with children and families.

“DFPS really needed to get back to basics and focus on running the agency and its operations,” Jones said. “In particular, to better manage its staff, to listen to it, but also to empower it and rationalize its operation.

Stephens said Texas Child Protective Services faces the highest turnover of any state it has contracts with.

While he pointed to the pandemic as a factor, he suggested that a culture of fear is one of the reasons many leave the profession. Many employees said they thought they would be fired if they made a decision the supervisor didn’t like, Stephens said.

He also said the state needs to invest in better case tracking and data collection so it can identify problems earlier and reward based on performance.

Finally, Stephens asked lawmakers and agency leaders about who they select for community care programs, urging them to consider children before costs.

“There is enough money in the system; you have to be able to make sure it’s used the right way,” Stephens said.

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