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Committees Hear Testimony on Child Welfare Reform Bills
This week both chambers have been moving child welfare legislation to reform what a federal judge described as Texas’s “Dickensian” foster care and child protective services system.
On Monday, February 20, the House Committee on Human Services met to hear three major bills on reforming Child Protective Services. Two (HB 4 & HB 5) were voted out of committee and will be heard on the House floor next week on Wednesday, March 1. The third (HB 6) has been left pending in committee. In the Senate, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted out SB 11 on Wednesday, February 22. Senate Bill 11 is expected to be on the Senate floor early next week.
House Bill 4 by Rep. Cindy Burkett recognizes that many relatives do not have the means to care for an additional child in the household. However, not only do children have better outcomes when in the care of a relative, but “kinship care” saves the state money as opposed to placing them in the foster care system. HB 4 would spend $32.5 million over the next biennium to provide support for those grandparents and other family members to take custody of the child to prevent the child from becoming a ward of the state. Watch video from the hearing here.
House Bill 5 by Rep. James Frank would remove the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from the state’s massive Health and Human Services Commission bureaucracy so that DFPS has more flexibility to manage its workforce, contracting, and service delivery. Watch video from the hearing here.
House Bill 6, also by Rep. James Frank, experienced much more discussion in committee. Like SB 11 earlier this month, legislative testimony focused on different aspects of increased privatization. Various groups expressed concerns about the transfer of case management duties from state caseworkers to the private caseworkers employed by the contractor, and the potential conflicts of interest that might arise in performance based contracting. Discussed less in the House committee than the Senate committee, but still vitally important, are the state’s reimbursement rates, which do not cover the full costs to the contractor. Watch video from the hearing here.
Next week, both the House Human Services Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear more bills related to child welfare. On Monday, February 27, the House Human Services Committee will hear HB 249 by Rep. Ana Hernandez which makes the legal definitions of “abuse” and “neglect” of a child in foster care facilities conform to the legal definitions that apply for parents. On Wednesday, March 1, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear SB 497 by Sen. Carlos Uresti which addresses the workforce crisis at DFPS. As Judge Jack noted in her opinion declaring the Texas foster care system placed children at an unreasonable risk of harm, turnover rates for first year caseworkers was almost 40% at a cost of $54,000 to train one caseworker.