Editorials

Texas child welfare, foster care overhaul is urgent

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman testifies Tuesday at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Human Services.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman testifies Tuesday at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Human Services. Austin American-Statesman

The Texas child welfare and foster care system is in crisis. There can be no higher priority for state officials than to set it straight.

Fortunately, the right people at the top recognize the life-threatening dangers involved and have put proper plans in motion. But fixing Child Protective Services and foster care will not be quick or easy.

Children have died without proper CPS help. Mismanagement and turnover of overloaded caseworkers plague the agency.

For lack of foster care beds, some children have been sleeping in CPS offices or housed longer than called for in psychiatric hospitals.

A federal judge has said foster care in Texas is a system from which children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.”

In April, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Hank Whitman, former head of the Texas Rangers and a 34-year law enforcement veteran, to be commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services and charged him with “overhauling a broken system.”

Now Abbott’s office has released Whitman’s July 5 letter to the governor and his 10-point overhaul plan.

Two months and 10 bullet points don’t fix anything, but at least Whitman has laid a good foundation.

He said he expects CPS workers “to do whatever it takes to protect Texas children from abuse and neglect.” CPS regional directors must re-apply for their positions, and they’ll he held accountable “once we ensure the right people are in these key jobs.”

Caseworkers will be given more information about homes they’re called on to visit. The 146 CPS special investigators, who have law enforcement backgrounds, will be given more training. Whitman also has said caseworkers must be paid more.

In a key element of his plan, Whitman told Abbott he wants to “rejuvenate and aggressively expand” a program called Foster Care Redesign. Rather than a statewide foster care network run from Austin, Foster Care Redesign calls for contractors to supervise smaller regional networks.

Fort Worth’s ACH Child and Family Services runs the only such regional network in the state. Whitman said that under ACH, “placements are more stable; brothers and sisters are staying together; and the provider network is at an all-time high in both quality and quantity.”

After Whitman fleshes out his plan, he’ll be calling on the Legislature to fund it.

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