Other Voices

Texas’ foster care, child protection system confronts an urgent crisis

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has named a new leader for the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has named a new leader for the Department of Family and Protective Services. MCT

Texas is in a crisis that, if not addressed with the highest urgency, will create lasting damage for generations to come.

Children removed from their homes are placed in a structurally unsound system that is meant to protect them, but in reality it often subjects them to further trauma, abuse and neglect.

From excessive caseworker turnover and management flaws to a shortage of placements due to increased removals, the system has reached a breaking point that is already resulting in more harm to children and tragic child fatalities.

In December, a federal judge ruled that the Texas foster care system violates the constitutional rights of many children in its care by failing to protect them from harm.

Whether you agree with this ruling or not, the poor conditions described in the opinion are undeniable and heartbreaking.

As if this is not enough, the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees the child protection system, has experienced wholesale turnover among its top leadership.

Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed a new team to lead DFPS in the hope that they can begin to address the system’s failings.

Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) welcomes this new leadership, but we also recognize they face a difficult job.

We want to underscore several key shortcomings, urging the new DFPS leadership team and state leaders to concentrate on these areas that have not been successfully addressed through previous reforms.

Targeted prevention: We must use data more effectively to predict which families may need help and provide intervention and services to these children and families.

Additional resources: Repairing the system will require additional resources to better enhance recruitment, training, manageable caseloads and adequate compensation for caseworkers in order to decrease the devastating turnover.

Trauma-informed approach: Understanding the needs and challenges of children in the system requires an understanding about how the trauma they have experienced impacts their behaviors and outcomes.

Increased capacity: In addition to the well-documented shortage of foster care homes, we face a crucial problem of placing many children far from their home communities and schools, away from their families and friends, creating unnecessary trauma for children and decreasing the likelihood of restoring families.

Equal accountability: Abuse or neglect allegations in state-licensed foster care homes and facilities receive inferior investigations compared with similar allegations made outside of the system. All such allegations should be investigated by well-trained CPS investigators, not regulatory personnel, and paid caregivers should be held to the same standards as biological families.

In the midst of this turmoil, Texas CASA will continue to work with DFPS and state leadership as well as partner organizations to advocate for policies in the best interest of Texas’ children.

Vicki Spriggs is CEO of Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).