The Texas child welfare and foster care system is a mess — that’s a fact few would dispute.
How to go about reforming it is a much more complex and nuanced issue — one for which “there will not be a quick or easy solution.”
That’s how Bruce Capehart, chairman of the Child Protective Services Board for Tarrant County, described the situation to lawmakers in testimony before the Texas House Committee on County Affairs, which held a hearing at the Tarrant County College Trinity River Campus on Thursday.
In Tarrant County, like the rest of the state, thousands of children are thrown into the system each year. Reports show that of the almost 177,000 child abuse/neglect investigations completed in 2015, nearly 44,000 were in the Arlington region.
But because of the problems plaguing the agency, from trouble retaining employees to mismanagement and overloaded caseworkers, too many of those children are not receiving the kind of high-quality care and services the state should be providing to them.
In some cases, children in the system have died while waiting for help.
While the state recognizes its failures, progress is slow, and while the adults struggle to rebuild a collapsed system, children continue to suffer.
But we have to start somewhere.
The bright spot of Thursday’s hearing is that Fort Worth might just be that somewhere.
Tarrant County is part of a statewide initiative that many experts believe could be a large part of the solution.
Fort Worth's ACH Child and Family Services, a nonprofit group seeking to make lives better for foster children, has been contracting directly with the state since 2011 in an effort to localize foster care.
That effort, as several witnesses eagerly described, is bearing fruit.
If it enjoys continued success, the initiative could be a model for the rest of the state, but it won’t eliminate the need for major systemic reforms at the state level.
At Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers heard possible solutions, like higher salaries and more reasonable caseloads.
The committee will report to the Legislature next year on how to improve the system, and it should bring all such ideas, but also concrete proposals for reform.
ACH is already providing one such success story.