Almost a year after a Corpus Christi federal judge ruled that the Texas foster care system endangers children who are under state care and violates their constitutional rights, two special masters have delivered more than four dozen recommendations for protecting those children and setting that system on the right path.
In a 13-page report to federal District Judge Janis Jack, special masters Kevin Ryan and Francis McGovern prescribed changes at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, including workload targets and mentoring to help reduce high turnover rates among caseworkers.
Fixing this troubled system is going to be expensive, a problem that legislators will have to deal with when they meet in January.
State officials have not been idly waiting for the special masters’ report, which Jack ordered undertaken at state expense. But the report shows clearly that if the state does not act on its own, the court will.
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In April, Gov. Greg Abbott named Henry “Hank” Whitman Jr., former chief of the renowned Texas Rangers law enforcement agency, to be DFPS commissioner.
Whitman has come up with plans to reform the agency, including hiring 550 more front-line employees and giving $12,000 raises to caseworkers, supervisors and program directors.
The cost of that plan, more than $60 million, has already raised howls from some lawmakers.
The special masters’ report also includes recommendations for statewide implementation of an innovative program known as Foster Care Redesign, the only example of which currently operating in Texas is a seven-county program run by ACH Child and Family Services of Fort Worth.
ACH has been delivering impressive results, expanding the number of foster care homes, placing abused and neglected children in foster care close to their own homes and keeping siblings together — also among the special masters’ recommendations.
Whitman also favors expansion of Foster Care Redesign and is asking for a special allocation — $99.2 million from state general revenues over the next two-year budget cycle — to make it happen.
That’s a lot of money, but it’s no surprise. ACH has said that by the end of its three-year state contract the nonprofit expects to spend $5 million of its own money helping the state take care of these vulnerable children.
Texas has to face this problem and fix it.