Services for abused Texas children need more funds, not less

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Children need many things in order to face a positive future: strong families, good education, affordable healthcare, cultural experiences.

But first and foremost, children need to live in safety.

Sounds basic? It is for many. But last year, 5,598 children in Tarrant County were confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect, second only to Bexar among Texas counties.

For 791 of these children, things were so bad that they needed to be moved to a new home away from their family. The state calls this "substitute care," and it is an obvious first step in protecting children from more abuse and neglect. Despite the need, these critical services are being threatened by funding shortages.

Any business student will tell you that the fastest way to kill a business is to earn less than your costs. Unfortunately, this is exactly the approach used in Texas to secure residential services for children. Texas' most recent cost reports show that payment rates to providers cover only 73 percent of the average cost of care. This is an unsustainable approach.

This situation is not new for agencies that provide foster care and group care. Texas has never paid 100 percent of the cost of these services, so established organizations close the gap by raising donations. But fundraising can only go so far, and the gap keeps getting wider.

The 27 percent gap this year is the largest ever. It has gradually crept up from a gap of about 12 percent 10 years ago, and state budget shortages have continued to chip away at the payments. Texas isn't paying its fair share, and the problem keeps getting worse.

If you think foster parents or agencies are getting rich, think again. Foster parents are paid, but rates range from only $22.15 to $49.85 per day for each child.

These families perform heroic work that requires specialized training and support to help children overcome their tough start to life. "Tough start" is a nice way to describe: babies born addicted to crack, young children with broken bones and bruises, teenagers forced into prostitution or children who have not been fed or provided necessary medical care. Each story is heartbreaking, and it is the job of residential programs to help.

We do know that these stories can have happy endings. Tremendous advances in healing early childhood trauma have been made by national researchers. Groundbreaking work at Texas Christian University has made important contributions.

We know that these children can learn to attach, trust and adapt if given the right care. These youths can have very bright futures if they receive effective care now. But funding only 73 percent of the cost of care won't get us there.

Child advocates are desperately lobbying our legislators for a 14 percent increase in rates to narrow the funding gap. This still leaves a gap, but it would help significantly. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and our children need advocates.

Wayne Carson is CEO of ACH Child and Family Services in Fort Worth.

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