The Texas Legislature convenes every other year for five months, which means we have limited time to address the business of a state of 28 million people.
This model has served us well, as it allows for consideration of issues in advance of our regular legislative session and limits the time we have to pass laws that affect, and possibly micromanage, the lives of Texans. One of the drawbacks, though, is that issues can arise quickly that demand focus and solutions during this short window of 140 days.
In the time before the last legislative session in 2017, the need for an overhaul of our foster care system to serve our most vulnerable children became such an issue. In preparation, my team and I reached out to local leaders who understand the foster system and how it could better serve young Texans in need of stability, permanency, comfort, and safety.
When we descended upon Austin, I was ready to get to work. One of the reasons I ran for office was to be a part of the big conversations. As an adoptive mom, and someone who has volunteered for and maintained a close relationship with the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, I was excited to contribute my experiences, principles, and knowledge to address this crisis.
Gov. Abbott added this issue to his list of emergency items for the session, which allowed us to act more quickly on related legislation— a critical element in a system where time is designed to be the enemy. I found myself at ground-zero of this challenge, as Lt. Gov. Patrick appointed me to the Health and Human Services Committee, which was tasked with handling the legislation to overhaul the foster care system.
The committee began hearings almost immediately, and, after intense work, soon coalesced around the idea known as “community-based foster care,” which is a partnership between the state and local organizations based within each Child Protective Services region where displaced children reside.
At the time, the state foster system was centralized through Austin, which meant a child who entered the system would be separated from whatever local resources — friends, extended family, teachers, church leaders — they relied on at what is a critical time.
I’m sure some of you are familiar with the term “community-based” fostering, and there’s a good reason for that. It is the Tarrant County model. In 2007, Texas initiated a program to test geographical case management, and the trail was blazed here at home. Through a strong partnership between the state and ACH Child & Family Services based in Tarrant County, we learned the lessons necessary to deploy this model across the state and better serve Texas children.
The work of the committee became Senate Bill 11, which I was proud to coauthor. I worked to secure the funding for this overhaul —$500 million — to ensure proper implementation. My contribution to addressing this crisis was born out of a combination of my personal experiences as an adoptive mom, my governing principles on the proper role of government, and the amazing community we have here in Tarrant County, whose collaborative spirit was central to what I hope is a successful solution for kids in our foster system.
As always, the work of government is never “done.” I will monitor the statewide implementation of this Tarrant County model. If we identify areas in which these children are not being well-served, I am ready to step in, and I will call upon Tarrant’s wealth of resources and knowledge once more.
Sen. Konni Burton is a Colleyville Republican running for reelection in Senate District 10.