Earlier in the month, Judge Janis Jack conducted a hearing to follow up on the progress made on the thirteen remedial orders. The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) were not in compliance and were previously held in contempt.
Ahead of the hearing, the court-appointed Special Monitors filed two reports, one of which detailed the information they compiled regarding updates on these remedial orders and the other that went into more depth about the placement capacity crisis, which has left children without placement and being housed in unlicensed facilities.
Ultimately, the reports indicated substantial progress in some areas, including:
Ensuring new caseworkers have graduated caseloads as they learn the job;
Notifying caseworkers of allegations of abuse or neglect in the placement of a child on their caseload;
Shorter wait times and fewer referrals are being inappropriately downgraded at Statewide Intake; and
Timeliness of initiating and completing investigations.
While there have been improvements, some startling information reveals that the state continues to place children at an unreasonable risk of harm. Also, concerns were raised about the safety and lack of placements. In fact, 23 children in the Permanent Managing Conservatorship of the state have died since the Fifth Circuit issued its final ruling in July 2019. The reports and two-day-long hearing continued to point out that licensed placements continue to operate despite their long histories of deficiencies. Judge Jack repeated numerous times her concerns with placements being able to close their facilities and open up a new placement under a different name to avoid enforcement measures. Information was also revealed about children being housed in unlicensed facilities when a placement can’t be secured. Furthermore, 339 children have slept at least one night in a DFPS office since August 2020.
Interestingly, this was the first hearing in which the Single Source Continuum Contractors (SSCCs) in areas in which Community-Based Care (CBC) has been implemented were present and questioned alongside DFPS. Judge Jack made it very clear that the SSCCs were also under the same orders as DFPS. However, the information provided by the Special Monitors revealed that DFPS outperformed the SSCCs in several areas. They also raised questions about the implementation of CBC and the ability of DFPS to provide proper oversight, including concerns with:
Higher caseloads for caseworkers who work for SSCCs than DFPS;
Inadequate training for new caseworkers for SSCCs; and
Unreliable or nonexistent data for SSCCs.
Throughout the hearing, the resounding question from Judge Jack was “when?” in reference to what the plan is to come into compliance with each remedial order. While the hearing ended with Judge Jack expressing some optimism for the state agencies and SSCCs, there is no doubt that some major issues need to be addressed. We are approaching two years since the remedial orders have been mandated. We all share with Judge Jack’s standing questions of “when.” The stakes are high. For the sake of children’s wellbeing and lives, there is no time to waste.
Read our full statement on the CPS crisis in our sate here and for additional commentary from our CEO, Sophie Phillips, click here.
The best way to get policymakers to make the changes we need to protect children and families is to provide them with evidence that proves investing in prevention works. Not only will our state finances see the benefits but so will Texas children at risk of abuse and neglect. Jennifer Lucy, our Managing Director of Policy, submitted the public testimony below to the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees proving that investing upstream works; it saves dollars and makes sense!
By Jennifer Lucy, Managing Director of Policy for TexProtects, on Article II budget for FY 2022-2023.
TexProtects is the only statewide organization singularly focused on the prevention of child abuse and neglect, and we serve as the Texas Chapter for Prevent Child Abuse America and as a steering committee member for the Texas Child Protection Roundtable and Prenatal to Three Collaborative. We applaud the maintenance of prevention funding in the base budget and appreciate the work of this committee in ensuring that the health and well-being of the next generation remain primary in our approach to COVID-19 response and recovery.
Texas has an opportunity to use what we learned during COVID-19 to transform systems in ways that support families, rather than removing children, and roll out proven prevention strategies BEFORE a crisis. Like any smart investor, it’s critical that we pay for the outcomes we do want rather than those we don’t. This requires a shift upstream and will result in downstream cost savings across multiple systems for decades to come as today’s children grow up to be the strong Texas of tomorrow.
The cost of the status quo and inaction is clear. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) like child abuse and neglect are associated with negative outcomes for individuals across the lifespan including poorer health, lower educational attainment, and higher likelihood of experiencing unemployment. Individuals and governments incur significant costs as a result. Bellis et al. (2019) estimate that annual costs attributable to ACEs across North America are approximately $748 billion with 82% of the costs resulting from individuals who had two or more ACEs.[i] With one in 10 American children living in Texas, we can expect to incur a significant percent of those costs if we are not better able to prevent ACEs.
Healthcare costs are the most well-documented, but there are also criminal justice, child welfare, and education costs, among others. Each case of child abuse or neglect results in $830,000 in costs across the victim’s lifetime.[ii] This translates to over $55 billion in costs as a result of confirmed abuse and neglect in Texas in 2019 alone. We can continue to pay for the effects of childhood adversity, or we can work to prevent it.
TexProtects worked with Child Trends to look specifically at the potential impact of COVID-19 on child abuse and neglect risks and found reason to believe that increases in unemployment, mental health struggles, family violence, substance use issues, and parental stress may result in increased abuse and neglect. Research during the last recession found that for each point the unemployment rate rises, physical and emotional abuse increase by 12-15%.[iii]
However, with the large majority of Child Protective Services (CPS) cases addressing neglect rather than abuse and much abuse/neglect going unreported, we know families need support more often than they need protection. The most cost-efficient and effective approaches offer supports BEFORE A CRISIS occurs and during the first years of life when a stable, safe, nurturing caregiver is THE KEY to healthy child development.
The 87th legislature can increase access to proven support strategies that protect children by implementing the following recommendations in the 2022/2023 budget for Texas.
Fully fund the Prevention and Early Intervention Exceptional Item Request for $10 million to strengthen community based, primary child abuse prevention programs for children prenatal to age 5 through Healthy Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support (Project HOPES) and other prevention strategies.
Proven prevention programs administered through the Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) division at the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) have been critical lifelines for families during COVID-19 and depend on an infrastructure of community providers who work together to support families. Over the past decade, state and federal investments have helped build community-driven prevention infrastructure that accelerates the work of local nonprofits to deliver parenting support, information on local resources, and health screenings to children and their families. These voluntary programs have a proven return on investment of between $1.26 and $8.08 and have impacts across multiple domains and two generations. [iv]
Only 4% of the families in highest need currently have access, therefore, expansion is critical if Texas desires the statewide impact and cost savings that could result from widespread access to these programs. The current PEI strategic plan indicates that to adequately protect families, a 20% increase in prevention funds is needed every biennium. Currently, DFPS only spends 5% on early prevention efforts compared to CPS costs.
Prevent early childhood trauma and entries into foster care by leveraging the opportunities in the federal Family First Prevention Services Act to offer families at imminent risk of removal access to evidence-based mental health, substance use, and parenting supports.
Texas must be proactive and innovative in determining how to maximize the opportunity of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) to access federal matching funds for prevention funding that can be used to directly address the key drivers of child abuse/neglect: substance use, mental health, and parenting skills. With the large majority of CPS cases addressing neglect rather than abuse, we know families need support more often than they need protection. As noted by the DFPS 2018 Prevention Task Force Report, “Preventing 3% of removals (593) would save upwards of $20.3 million.”
Use of these funds should be prioritized for evidence-based programs that will prevent entry into the foster care system as this is the primary way to ensure better outcomes for children, family preservation, and long-term cost savings for the state.
The current plan provided by the agency proposes that $33.9 million of the $50.4 federal transition funds go toward prevention. All prevention strategies recommended here rely on community contracts rather than staff who work for DFPS.
Option 2D (A pilot for prevention services carried out by DFPS’ PEI division): PEI offers services to families to prevent child abuse and neglect. Their efforts focus mainly on primary prevention, which aims to reach families before the first occurrence of child maltreatment. However, some of their programs also focus on secondary prevention, which targets families who are at high risk of child maltreatment, such as families participating in Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS). Grants would be awarded to up to six regions. One community contractor would receive the grant in each region and then decide which programs to fund and deliver either through their own services or those of local subcontractors.
Option 2E (Expand HIP [Helping through Intervention and Prevention] for all pregnant and parenting foster youth):HIP is an effective program through PEI that serves current and former foster youth who are pregnant or parenting a child under the age of 3 by providing in-home parent education services. Additional funds would allow expansion of these voluntary support services.
These options focus on strategies that are evidence-based and have shown that they can keep children safe and reduce child maltreatment. They also already have an established and successful infrastructure. Some of the programs also have experience serving families participating in FBSS, who fit the eligibility definition and have already been approved by the Clearinghouse, including Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers.
The other options presented by DFPS would require a great length of time before they could be implemented (i.e. carrying out prevention services through Community-Based Care) or would be relying on FBSS caseworkers to deliver programming that is outside their area of expertise and/or credentialing requirements. Both would require significant deviation for systems and staff and potential conflicts of interest or complexities that do not make it feasible.
Fully restore MedCARES (Medical Child Abuse Resources & Education System) funding of $5.96 million which was completely cut from the Department of State Health Services budget.
In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 2080 to establish the MedCARES grant program as part of a strategic response to growing numbers of child abuse and neglect-related fatalities. The bill was championed by Senator Jane Nelson with the help of now Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick; Representatives Garnet Coleman, Tan Parker, Toni Rose, Rafael Anchia, and Abel Herrero; and now Senator Jose Menéndez.
MedCARES provides grant funding to hospitals, academic health centers, and facilities with expertise in pediatric health to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat child abuse and neglect. MedCARES grant recipients give communities easy access to medical providers who support education for the general public, case reviews for other physicians, trainings, and expert courtroom testimony by child abuse specialists. MedCARES providers include general pediatricians, child abuse pediatricians (CAPs), nurse practitioners, social workers, and sexual assault nurse examiners.
COVID-19 has exacerbated child abuse risks due to increased family stress, increased substance use, and heightened economic insecurity. Cutting MedCARES compromises critical infrastructure we have in place to protect children in Texas. Last year alone, almost 22,000 professionals attended child abuse prevention trainings through MedCARES and more than 2 million individuals participated in prevention program activities.
Thank you for your attention to these critical investments that not only support families and protect children today–but ensure a brighter Texas tomorrow.
We look forward to working with you. Please contact us anytime if we can provide support or resources as you address these and other child protection issues.
The Hon. Darlene Byrne, J.D. | Rebel Calhoun | Leslie Carpenter | John Castle, Jr., J.D. | Leslie DeCillis Debra Decker | The Hon. Maurine Dickey | Catherine Estrada | Robert Estrada | Kathleen Fletcher, Ph.D. Laura Gardiner | Tammy Cotton Hartnett | The Hon. Lee Jackson | Scott Murray | Len Musgrove
Janet Pozmantier, MS, LPC | Dick Rogoff | The Hon. Peter Sakai, J.D. | The Hon. Florence Shapiro
Lisa K. Simmons | The Hon. Mark Strama | The Hon. Royce West, J.D.
TexProtects’ mission is to protect Texas children from the trauma of abuse and neglect and empowers families to thrive through education, research, and advocacy. Our vision is that all children are safe, nurtured, and resilient. To achieve our mission, TexProtects engages in research, advocacy and education. We advocate for better policies, reforms and appropriate increases in federal, state and local funding for three priority areas: 1) Prevention: Increasing investment in proven child abuse prevention programs, 2) Protection: Strengthening and reforming the CPS system, and 3) Healing: Ensuring victims receive adequate and accessible treatment.
[iii] Schneider, W., Waldfogel, J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2017).
[iv] : Prinz, R. J., Sanders, M. R., Shapiro, C. J., Whitaker, D. J., & Lutzker, J. R. (2009); Chaffin, M., Hecht, D., Bard, D., Silovsky, J. F., & Beasley, W. H. (2012). DuMont, K., Mitchell-Herzfeld, S., Greene, R., Lee, E., Lowenfels, A., Rodriguez, M., & Dorabawila, V. (2008); Olds, D. L., Kitzman, H. J., Cole, R. E., Hanks, C. A., Arcoleo, K. J., Anson, E. A., . . . Stevenson, A. J. (2010); Olds, D. L., Kitzman, H., Hanks, C., Cole, R., Anson, E., Sidora-Arcoleo, K., et al. (2007); Olds, D. L., Robinson, J., Pettitt, L. M., Luckey, D. W., Holmberg, J., Ng, R. K., . . . Henerson, C. R. (2004)
TexProtects continues to follow the latest developments on the foster care lawsuit. For the first time since the lawsuit began, Governor Greg Abbott publicly stated at the beginning of this month that the state would cooperate and that he would work with legislators this session to get the funding necessary to be in compliance with Judge Janis Jack’s orders.
Both the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) included Exceptional Items for a total of almost $75 million above their base budgets to cover the expenses of the lawsuit. A supplemental request now increases that number to more than $126 million for the 2022-2023 biennium. In a session where state agencies have had to scale back spending and are trying to maintain service levels without cutting supports to children and families, finding $126 million in the Article II Health and Human Services budget will be no easy task.
For the sake of child safety, we are glad to see this shift in Governor Abbott’s approach to the lawsuit. It is also critical that Texas comply with the remedial orders ongoing from a financial perspective. Every possible fine and every dollar spent on this lawsuit, while necessary to keep kids in the system safe, is costing the state a lot of money. This has the potential of taking away necessary services for children and families from other areas of the agencies’ budgets and hinders opportunities to make smarter investments in new, innovative, and effective strategies.
In our last update in July 2020, we brought you up to speed on the findings in the Special Monitors report to Judge Jack, which showed how practices by both DFPS and HHSC were still placing the children in state custody at an unreasonable risk of harm. Since this time, the state has been held in contempt and threatened with hefty daily fines for not complying with more than a dozen of the Judge’s remedial orders, including the failure to comply with:
Caseload sizes to ensure workers aren’t overwhelmed and can do optimal work;
Timeliness of investigations;
Communication both internally and externally with placements about safety issues; and
Ensuring a system is in place to review a licensed provider’s history so that children are not placed in or remain in placements with significant histories of deficiencies that subject children to risk of harm.
Governor Abbott spoke out in December 2020 soon after these findings and directed both state agencies to comply.
The 87th Texas Legislative Session is underway, and both the House and Senate have released their proposed budgets for the upcoming 2022-2023 biennium. With more revenue available than expected, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) fared pretty well when compared to other Health and Human Services agencies in the Article II budget. While the two chambers had different approaches to spending, they both proposed providing DFPS with a total of $4.4 billion in All Funds, including￼￼ over $13 million in General Revenue.
The best news in the DFPS budget is that prevention funds were maintained and, in some cases, strengthened in both the House and Senate base budgets. Increased federal funding as well as efficiencies in Prevention and Early Intervention Programs (PEI) resulted in slight increases to the STAR program, child abuse prevention grants, and home visiting programs. As prevention programs have been especially vulnerable in prior recessions, this is great news for the start of the 87th session as we continue to advocate for strategic growth and smart investments in prevention.
Unlike prior sessions, the House and Senate budgets begin with a host of similarities. Unfortunately, in general, many of those similarities reflect a maintenance of the status quo. Both chambers introduced budgets that fail to make meaningful investments to improve:
Workforce turnover rates in each program area.
Caseloads in each program area, including Conservatorship despite an ongoing lawsuit that continues to find caseloads to be overly burdensome.
Average hold times at Statewide Intake.
Relative caregiver payments.
Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) purchased services.
And in some cases, the budgets are aligned in ways that could result in decreased quality in DFPS operations. For example,
Compared to FY 2021, this budget decreases funding for Child Protective Services (CPS) direct delivery staff to carry out their responsibilities.
Relative caregiver payments are also lower than FY 2021 in both proposed budgets.
Despite being overwhelmingly similar, there are some key differences in the House and Senate budgets.
Workforce: The House took a more generous approach with the workforce and takes into consideration the agency’s Exceptional Item request for additional workers. The House wants to see the agency more fully staffed, which also accounts for the higher funding amounts allocated for salaries. The Senate, on the other hand, proposed funding approximately 400 less employees which would require the additional Exceptional Item request to be considered.
Delivery of CPS Services: Both chambers suggested different amounts to fund CPS direct delivery staff to carry out their responsibilities. Both chambers came up shy of Fiscal Year 2021 spending levels: the Senate proposed an amount that is $15 million short, whereas the House came up with a number that is $33 million short. This is significant because DFPS asked for an additional $107 million above the base budget across the biennium to perform their duties adequately, so this is an even larger gap to fill to be able to meet the needs of children and families.
Community Based Care (CBC): The Senate seems more willing to keep up the momentum of CBC that has been building over the last couple of sessions. While both chambers provided funding for continued progress in existing catchment areas, the Senate went a step further in providing funding to see the expansion of case management into Region 8A and continued progress in Region 8b, which has not been procured yet. DFPS wants to expand even further, so they have included an Exceptional Item request to contract with providers in four new catchment areas and transfer case management responsibilities in two existing regions. Considering what has been funded in each of these proposed budgets could provide insight as to if that request will be approved. Based on this information, it seems like the Senate is more likely to consider it than the House.
The budget is the single most important piece of legislation each session and is the only task that the legislature is required to complete. Lawmakers’ priorities and funding decisions determine if agencies will be able to provide appropriate and timely services and ensure the best outcomes. Members of the House and Senate still have work to do to reconcile the differences between their proposed budgets and consider what is most important for the safety and well-being of children and families. We encourage you to get involved in the House Appropriations and Senate Finance process as they continue to determine what the budget will look like for the upcoming biennium. The Senate Finance Committee will be hearing invited testimony on February 25th and allowing public comment on March 1st. It is critical that we encourage lawmakers to invest in the health and success of children and families by educating legislators on what works, what doesn’t, and the benefits of investing in smart solutions.
For guidance and resources on how you can champion child protection this legislative session, visit our website and sign-up to receive our advocacy alerts by texting TEXPROTECTED to 25994.
The 87th Legislative Session kicked off last week and after a flurry of activity Tuesday through Thursday, both houses adjourned until January 26, 2021. Here are the five key developments last week that will affect advocacy efforts this session.
1. Safety protocols: The State Preservation Board released the following adjustments to protocols for the 87th legislative session.
The public will only be able to enter through the north door, and masks worn over the nose and mouth will be required at all times while inside. Guests will also be necessary to social distance and there will be capacity limits.
There will be no public tours, groups, or sponsored event space available.
COVID-19 testing will be accessible on the north plaza at no cost.
The building will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and will be closed Saturday and Sunday for cleaning.
2. Money: On Monday, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar unveiled the biennial revenue estimate, which revealed a better-than-expected outlook for budget writers this session. In short, there is a $946 million shortfall in the current budget. Budget writers will have $112.53 billion to appropriate for the 2022-2023 biennial budget – a 0.4% decrease from the last session. In hand, Texas has an additional $11.6 billion in the Economic Stabilization (or Rainy Day) fund and $13 billion in federal CARES Act Allocations that could replace General Revenue spending this biennium decrease shortfall. Despite continued uncertainty due to energy revenue, public health, and revenue through the end of this budget cycle, the estimate made clear that this legislation should have the tools necessary to maintain, if not strengthen, critical supports for children and families.
3. Leadership: On opening day, the House elected Rep. Dade Phelan, the Speaker of the House. Rep. Phelan is a Republican from Beaumont who has served in the House since 2015 and had bipartisan support in his election as Speaker. He rounds out the “Big Three” leaders in Texas, including the publicly-elected Governor and Lieutenant Governor who preside over the Senate.
4. Rules: Both houses, last week, adopted adjusted rules for the upcoming session, largely to address adaptations required by the public health considerations surrounding COVID-19 and their implications on the legislative process. The Senate took a much more aggressive approach to requirements for COVID-tests. Neither House adopted provisions to allow virtual testimony beyond what is currently allowed for invited witnesses.
Masks must be worn on the Texas House floor, in the gallery, and during committee hearings. When members or witnesses are at the mic, masks may be removed.
Members will be able to vote not only from the floor but also from the gallery and in rooms adjoining the chamber using secured laptops.
For committee hearings, a quorum can constitute two members present on a dais while others listen remotely. Testimony will be taken in person unless it is invited testimony, then it can be done remotely. Committee chairs also have the option of using an online portal for the public to submit written testimony if they do not wish to travel.
House members will determine protocols for access to their offices.
Of concern, adopted rules make it optional for committees to make public the list of those who register in support or in opposition of bills without providing testimony.
The Senate lowered the threshold of Senate votes required to bring legislation to the floor from 19 to 18 – aligning with the size of the GOP majority.
A Senate member must have a negative COVID-19 test the day of any action in committee or on the Senate floor.
All Senate staff must be tested prior to accessing the chamber or hearings
Members of the Senate must wear masks on the floor except when alone at their desks.
Public seating in the gallery will be limited and a wristband demonstrating a negative COVID-19 will be required to enter the gallery. A wristband indicating a negative test will be required for committee access as well.
Proof of vaccination will be treated the same as a negative test.
Senate members will determine protocols for access to their offices.
On Friday, the Senate posted their committees. Key committee leadership was maintained with Sen. Jane Nelson (Republican) chairing Finance and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (Republican) chairing Health and Human Services. The Speaker will be accepting preference cards from House members regarding committee assignments through January 22. We can expect House Committees to be announced in the weeks following.
The TexProtects team is committed to bringing you the latest information on child welfare this legislative session, so stay connected to our resources by signing up to receive our newsletter or follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #TexProtected
The 87th Legislative Session is underway, and with it comes the opportunity to fight for smart solutions to child abuse and neglect. Now more than ever, the TexProtects policy team is laser-focused on strategies that strengthen families, prevent child abuse, and promote healing during these times of exponential need.
COVID-19 has dramatically impacted our already vulnerable child protection system, put unimaginable strain on families with young children, and exacerbated root causes of child maltreatment like substance use and behavioral health concerns. 5,300 more children may be at risk of entering the Texas foster care system as a result and many more will be impacted. Texas cannot afford that additional $4.4 billion price tag nor can our children. Texas must invest in proven programs that prevent abuse and save $1.26-$8.08 per $1 invested by supporting community and family efforts to create safe and nurturing environments for the 7.5 million children who call Texas home. Together, it is time to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t for Texas children and their families across party lines. [link full agenda]
Meet the Team Behind the Plan
Sophie Phillips, TexProtects CEO, has a background in social work. Her passion and interest are in addressing the root causes of child abuse and neglect and creating partnerships to advance state policies and practices.
Jennifer Lucy, Managing Director of Programs, provides leadership, strategy, and coordination for TexProtects policy, research, education activities, and staff. She partners with legislators, staff, and community partners to execute a policy agenda that prevents child abuse and neglect and helps families thrive.
Kerrie Judice, CPS Researcher and Analyst, monitors key CPS and Foster Care issues for the team. Her prior experience as a worker in the CPS system and connections to other child protection partners provides invaluable insight as she advocates for improvements to the Texas child protection system.
Michelle Wittenburg is an external lobbyist whose strategic consultation and connections to the movers and shakers in the Capitol are an invaluable resource to TexProtects.
Jess Trudeau serves as the Director for the Texas Prenatal to Three Collaborative while providing coordination and direction for policy, advocacy, and funding efforts to support Family Connects.
Beth Cortez-Neavel provides organizational and administrative support for the policy team. She uses her journalism background to communicate the most important issues for child protection advocates.
Gloria manages communications strategies for TexProtects and the Texas Prenatal to Three Collaborative. Her goal is to connect the community to our policy recommendations and educational resources.
Why We Do What We Do
Safeguarding today’s children from abuse and neglect is essential to protecting tomorrow’s Texas. If you want to get involved in the process, we put together the six ways you can take action today. Visit [link https://www.texprotects.org/legetoolkit/ ] to view the list. The TexProtects team is committed to resourcing you well to use your voice to be a champion for children. Please don’t hesitate to contact our team with questions. We are here for you!
The work of the 87th Legislature is already well underway, and TexProtects’ staff is hard at work alongside agency and legislative leaders in ensuring that Texas keeps child safety and family wellbeing at the top of the priority list this session.
Late last month, TexProtects provided recommendations in response to the Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) Legislative Budget Request (LAR). The agency’s LAR will serve as the foundation for the appropriations bill and state budget for 2022 – 2023. With the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 and the prospect of a session much more limited in scope, now more than ever, public participation and feedback on the budgetary process is critical to ensuring that communities and families can benefit from strategic investments and proven programs that ensure every child has a bright tomorrow.
You can read our comments and recommendations here, and stay tuned for more opportunities to let lawmakers know that now is the time for us all to step up and be champions for children.
TexProtects’ Stakeholder InputDepartment of Family and Protective Services Legislative Appropriations Request 2022-2023
Submitted November 24, 2020
TexProtects appreciates the opportunity to offer comment on the Department of Family and Protective Services’ Legislative Appropriations Request for 2022-2023. As the only statewide organization singularly focused on child protection and preventing abuse and neglect, we applaud the Department’s investments in prevention and family preservation approaches that are proven to keep children safe and keep families together.
Investments by the 85th and 86th Legislatures and innovative approaches by DFPS leadership have resulted in substantial shifts in approach that have the potential to change the landscape of child welfare in Texas in a way that is beneficial for children and families. The rollout of Community Based Care and the potential funding available through the Family First Prevention Services Act offer Texas the opportunity to invest in proven strategies, leverage community strengths, and keep kids safe.
However, despite these significant improvements, the DFPS budget still reflects a prioritization of reaction to abuse and neglect rather than prevention and family preservation. Only 5% of the 2021 budget is spent on prevention with 87% spent on Child Protective Services. The investments in CPS have increased much faster than investments in prevention without any accompanying decreases in reports, investigations, or confirmed victims.
Texas has not created a system that is effectively rolling out evidence-based practices to prevent removals and address risk before a crisis.
Despite increasing child fatalities resulting from child abuse and neglect (specifically in children under age 5), only 3.8% of families in highest need have access to voluntary evidence-based programs through the Prevention and Early Intervention Division that could help prevent such tragedy.
The vast majority of investigations are for neglect rather than abuse, demonstrating that most families are need of support rather than protection.
78% of removals from the home (and entry intro foster care) are occurring straight from investigations without the family receiving family preservation services.
42% of families who have received services in Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS), which are intended to prevent removals, are re-reported for abuse or neglect within five years of completing services.
44% of children are subsequently alleged as a victim in a new investigation within five years of exiting CPS custody.
Disparities by race persist with African-American families 1.9 times as likely to be investigated and African-American children 1.6 times as likely to be removed than Anglo children.
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Child Abuse and Neglect
Now more than ever, it is critical that the state respond correctly and provide families with proven strategies to meet their needs and to stay together safely, otherwise there is a risk of putting more stress on the system. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only negatively impacted Texas’ budget, it has caused families to face an unprecedented amount of stress, financial difficulties, and social isolation. Research during the Great Recession found significant correlations between unemployment and physical and emotional abuse. If those correlations hold in the current crisis, Texas could see a 15% increase in physical abuse cases and 12% increase in emotional abuse cases for every one-point increase in the unemployment rate.
For many families experiencing unemployment, untreated substance use and mental health challenges can increase the risks to child safety and family well-being. According to the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, a 5% increase in the unemployment rate could result in 300 additional lives lost to suicide, 425 additional lives lost to drug overdoses, and an additional 50,000 cases of Substance Use Disorder each year. With more than 70% of CPS cases involving mental health and substance abuse challenges prior to COVID-19, we expect to see an even more substantial impact.
Now more than ever, protecting children requires better support for families who are facing unprecedented challenges that can impact child safety and well-being.
DFPS’ Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR)
DFPS is entering into the next biennium with a $4.5 billion baseline request, which reflects growth forecasts but is impacted by the previous 5% reductions. According to DFPS, this required making some additional funding asks just to get back to a maintenance level of operations. In a typical legislative budget cycle, one would expect numerous exceptional items above DFPS’ baseline request. However, with the current economic climate amid a pandemic and a costly ongoing federal lawsuit, DFPS’ approach to the budget is narrow in scope and only aimed at initiatives they consider to be most necessary. DFPS’ LAR includes requests for an additional $192 million to carry these out.
It is promising to see two opportunities for additional prevention investments to keeping families safely together and preventing removals reflected in the Exceptional Item Requests.
$10 million is requested for investment in Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) services, specifically Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support), the Family and Youth Success Program (formerly known as STAR), and the Military Families Program. Citing the costs of each program in comparison to the cost of foster care services, DFPS acknowledged these services as a “cost-effective alternative to foster care.”
DFPS also included a placeholder to discuss how to leverage the funding opportunities in the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).
These initiatives and associated dollars are focused on keeping children safe and supporting families to ensure that reports, investigations, and child abuse/neglect rates decrease. The only path toward a better Texas tomorrow and decreasing costs spent on CPS is to shift the paradigm by investing in cost-effective and proven programs BEFORE crisis. Prevention saves dollars and make sense. It’s the right approach for children and the smart approach for taxpayers.
1 Exceptional Item Request #4 – Fully fund Prevention and Early Intervention toward Strategic Growth
While the CPS system plays a vital role for children who have endured abuse and/or neglect, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)also plays a critical role in the prevention of abuse and neglect and the strengthening of families through effective prevention programs. The Prevention and Early Intervention Division at DFPS has established innovative and effective community-based strategies for delivering proven programs to families who choose to enroll.
The immense research done on the health implications of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)[i]—including abuse, neglect, family violence, or growing up with a caregiver who is incarcerated, mentally ill, or engaging in substance use—makes clear that what happens in early childhood literally lasts a lifetime. The prevention of ACEs holds incredible potential for ensuring healthy development and impacting societal challenges and taxpayer costs across multiple domains.
The cost of inaction is clear. ACEs like child abuse and neglect are associated with negative outcomes for individuals across the lifespan including poorer health, lower educational attainment, and higher likelihood of experiencing unemployment. Individuals and governments incur significant costs as a result. Bellis et al. (2019) estimate that annual healthcare costs attributable to ACEs across North America are approximately $748 billion with 82% of costs resulting from individuals who had two or more ACEs.[ii] With one in 10 American children living in Texas, we can expect to incur a significant percent of those costs if we aren’t better able to prevent child abuse, neglect, and other severe childhood trauma.
To create the most effective and efficient systemic change, interventions should occur in early childhood and should rely on evidence-based approaches that decrease risk and increase protective factors within family and community systems.
We fully support the DFPS request in exceptional item #4 to increase investments in prevention initiatives including Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support), the Family and Youth Success Program (formerly known as STAR), and the Military Families Program.
Specifically, we applaud the increase in Project HOPES and the Military Families Program which have implemented evidence-based home visiting strategies for families with young children. These programs are proven to have significant impacts on maternal and child health, school readiness, and child safety during the most critical years for development and have been a lifeline for families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
HB1549 (85R) directed the agency to create a strategic plan to scale prevention programming. The current PEI strategic plan indicates that to adequately protect families, a 20% increase in prevention funds is needed every biennium.
While this exceptional item does reflect a 6% increase for PEI budget and an 11% increase in the number of families who could be served by PEI, it still offers less than 4% of families with young children and 3 or more risk factors access to proven evidence-based home visiting.
In order to maximize impact, ensure access for families in need, and realize savings across our state systems in this budget cycle and the many yet to come, our investment must demonstrate a true commitment to strategic expansion.
$18 million additional dollars (on top of the request) would allow Project HOPES to expand so that they could reach at least 5% of families most likely to benefit, would be more in line with the growth goals in the PEI strategic plan, and would create a meaningful path toward statewide scale of proven prevention programs.
2 Exceptional Item Request #5 – Prioritize Prevention in Appropriating Funds for Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)
FFPSA provides Texas with a tremendous opportunity to transform the system from one that primarily responds after a crisis has occurred to one that invests in prevention to ensure families can remain together when safe and appropriate, have the supports they need, and avoid the trauma of a removal. In fact, FFPSA is the greatest investment and shift in the child welfare system from the Feds in the past five decades and if Texas doesn’t act, we will miss out on the opportunity to shrink our foster care system. FFPSA creates a funding mechanism for prevention services so that states can now be reimbursed at a rate of 50% for trauma-informed and evidence-based substance use, mental health, and in-home parenting services that have been approved by the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse. Federal eligibility criteria broadly include children at imminent risk of entering foster care and their caregivers, as well as pregnant or parenting foster youth. The goal is to keep children out of the Child Protective Services (CPS) system by utilizing providers in the community who specialize in prevention.
DFPS released their strategic plan on September 1, 2020 which includes an overview of existing prevention services and agency activities that align with FFPSA, as well as implementation considerations and options for the prevention services and congregate care components of the bill using federal dollars already in hand from the Family First Transition Funds Act (FFTA). The plan does not require additional appropriations from the 87th Legislature and does not propose investment of any state dollars to receive the federal match that FFPSA affords. It does little to set up a framework for how to take advantage of this potentially transformational federal funding on an ongoing basis; therefore, there will still need to be planning in the 88th Legislature if this is not addressed now. Much can be done now to ensure Texas leverages this federal legislation and funding opportunities. The Department is awaiting direction from the 87th legislature on how to spend the recommended $33.9 million on prevention services for families whose children are at imminent risk of entering foster care.
Support the Department’s plan to leverage $33.9 million in FFTA funds toward prevention efforts.
The prevention provisions of FFPSA are ultimately optional, so the Department’s plan to use $33.9 of the $50.3 million in FFTA funds on prevention efforts shows great promise. Prior to FFPSA, states focused dollars on measures that are expensive and reactive rather than proactive, protective, and cost-efficient. The further into the system a case flows, the more expensive it is. In 2019, there were 18,615 children who entered foster care. Preventing 3% of those removals would save the state $20 million. By investing earlier, Texas can prevent removals, save money, and keep children safe.
Prioritize effectiveness and be strategic about which prevention options to pursue.
DFPS laid out a wide range of options in their strategic plan. In partnership with lawmakers during this session as well as future sessions, it is essential to identify which strategies are most effective and can be replicated well in diverse communities around the state.
The most promising options leverage the expertise that has been developed within DFPS’ PEI division. These services are not staffed or carried out by employees of DFPS. Instead, PEI contracts with community providers who are highly-skilled in prevention work to provide voluntary services. Similar approaches can be utilized to fund community block grants and targeted approaches to reach families at higher risk while still empowering community leadership, strengths, and choice.
Options 2D, 2E, and 2F in the FFPSA plan are most poised to deliver proven programs to the FFPSA defined population in the coming biennium and as written could offer pilot programming to over 3,000 families at risk of removal including pregnant and parenting foster youth.
These options leverage established and successful infrastructure and programs with experience, serving FBSS families, who fit the eligibility definition. Additionally, several of the programs already implemented by PEI are approved by the Clearinghouse, including Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers and could be used to draw down the federal match.
Increased investment in those three options from available FFTA funds could empower pilots in more communities as well as exapnsion into rural communiites through tele-health and in-person modalities. A more focused investment in pilot approaches most likely to succeeed would result in closer to 5,000 families served before the next legislatative session. This would provide the next legislature more information to decide how and where state general revenue investments could be most impactful to communities and the budget by maximizing the federal match.
Strengthen family preservation services.
Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS) is the stage of service within DFPS that is tasked with providing services to families who have experienced child abuse and neglect but that has not risen to the level of requiring a removal. This stage of service is meant to keep families together and strengthen their ability to be healthy without further CPS intervention.
DFPS has proposed that families participating in FBSS are one of the primary targets for FFPSA prevention services. Unfortunately, DFPS does not publicly report which supports and services are provided to these families. Anecdotally, DFPS has shared that these services are primarily not evidence-based. FFPSA provides an opportunity to do something different by providing these families with evidence-based, trauma-informed services.The state spent $94 million on FBSS to serve 18,000 families in 2019. That money should be spent more wisely. Taking advantage of the opportunities in FFPSA could allow Texas to ensure that families are receiving evidence-based services proven to keep children safe. By doing so, we could finally decrease the recurrance rate among FBSS families. Diverting 5% of families from FBSS could save approximately $9.4 million.
Better align across systems to increase access to substance use and behavioral health programs.
The match available through FFPSA is for mental health, substance use, and in-home parenting supports; however, the strategic plan does not provide a meaningful pathway toward increasing access to behavioral health services which are both severely lacking in our state and clearly identified as root causes of abuse and neglect.
Texas should ensure that the budget of each state agency who provides these services to families has been considered to see if there are any missed opportunities to draw down federal funds. Cross-agency work should be mandated to ensure that future funds can be invested in ways that capitalize on the federal match.
Ensure there is state investment now in order to draw down the federal match in this biennium.
We know families are in need of services now, so the state should consider investing its own dollars, not just the federal dollars it already has, to ensure more families can be served and to provide a meaningful and sustainable path forward for these critical prevention services.
Carrying out the opportunities provided by FFPSA requires a drastic perspective shift. The intent of FFPSA is to transform the current system, not keep it the same. FFPSA aims to invest early in effective measures that will keep families together and out of the CPS system. Every dollar Texas invests should be spent with this in mind. With their current plan, DFPS has taken strides in the right direction for the children and families of Texas. However, it is essential that the Texas Legislature supports these efforts, makes a plan beyond this legislative session, and ensures the focus remains on child abuse and neglect prevention and family preservation.
TexProtects looks forward to serving as a resource and partner as you continue your work. Thank you for your commitment to these issues and to the families and children of Texas.
[i]Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (1998).
As part of our home visiting campaign, we’re bringing you stories from home visiting programs in Texas. Read our full home visiting landscape report here. This story comes from DePelchin Children’s Center, a nonprofit accredited foster and adoption agency with locations in Houston, Austin, Lubbock, and San Antonio. As one of the lead contractors for Project HOPES, DePelchin is utilizing state funds through the Prevention and Early Intervention Division (PEI) at the Department of Family and Protective Services to provide a continuum of evidence-based prevention programs that best meet the needs of their local communities. To learn more about Project HOPES, you can access our one pager here. To learn more about the amazing work of DePelchin Children’s Center, read on.
DePelchin Children’s Center has a history of providing prevention services to families through counseling and parenting programs. In talking with parents, they would often report that they were feeling isolated and “at their wits’ end” with their children. They simply felt they did not have the tools they needed to parent effectively. Some parents even shared the fear that they were at risk of handing their children over to the state because they just didn’t know what to do. They would say things like “I yell, I spank, I take things away and nothing works.” Parents were afraid to ask for help because asking for help meant that they were a “bad parent” or taking a class meant they were involved with CPS. The Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) program changed all that.
DePelchin’s HOPES program, which we call Parenting Help, allows parents to normalize parenting issues and makes it easy to ask for help. It shows the community that parenting is hard for all people. Struggles in parenting cross all racial and socioeconomic lines. Parents truly love their kids but just do not know what to do with them. We recognized that parents were not happy with how they were raising their children but did not know a different way. People would laughingly say that “my kids don’t come with an instruction manual–what am I supposed to do?” This is what helped us create the idea of Parenting Help and the tagline “Kids don’t come with instruction manuals – we can help. Parenting Help.”
Many say that it takes a village to raise a child, and we realized it would take a collaboration. We created partnerships with other child and family service agencies to provide a menu of options under the HOPES program to give parents what they need instead. In addition to the formal partnership funded by HOPES, the agencies involved connected with other child serving agencies throughout the community to form the Parenting Help Collaborative. This group meets regularly to support and leverage resources and make sure HOPES families receive what they need.
Families complete the HOPES Parenting Help program and report that they enjoy coming home from work and spending time with their child rather than avoiding them. This program gives us the opportunity to see parents encourage change in their children’s behavior so things like going to the grocery store after a long day are no longer a struggle. They learn how to count apples and sing songs down the aisle while praising their children and how this increases positive behavior while also managing misbehavior. Parents learn they can manage their children’s behavior, teach their children a skill, and spend quality time all in the same moment. It is so empowering for these families who at first felt so out of control with their children to realize that they now have the ability to help their child behave in positive ways. They now know they are the most important person in that child’s life and can make a huge impact.
HOPES has allowed us to implement these services in each county in a way that best meets the needs of that community. Not every community is the same and we can tailor each program to what the parents and children in that county need. We are so grateful for the HOPES program and blessed to be part of seeing these changes in families.
TexProtects would like to thank Julie Crowe, Charity Eames, and Megan Green at DePelchin Children’s Center for their tireless work for children and families and for sharing their Project HOPES story through this blog.
Most people feel lonely at some point in their lives, but two landmark Cigna studies found that more than half of respondents reported some degree of loneliness, with young people being the loneliest among all the generations studied. What happens when the loneliness epidemic converges with the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping many students at home away from their friends at school and tethered to their screens for e-learning? In the recent TexProtects Connects Lunch & Learn “Addressing Loneliness in Our Youth During COVID-19” presented by Cigna, Dr. Stuart Lustig, National Medical Executive for Behavioral Health at Cigna, discussed the challenges of e-learning for parents, kids, and teachers–and how to best support everyone involved.
Loneliness is a subjective term related to both body and mind. There is a vast difference between feeling lonely or experiencing loneliness and being alone. Feeling lonely is about wanting more social contact or different types of social contact than we may currently have. It’s not abnormal to be lonely at different times in our lives, but people who are lonely may have a greater number of physical ailments and experience greater depression and/or anxiety.
In Cigna’s Loneliness study [https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/loneliness-epidemic-america], conducted pre-COVID-19, they surveyed 20,000 adults online across the U.S. Researchers found that 54% of respondents reported feeling lonely based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Researchers also found loneliness increased with each younger generation. For example, 43.2% of the Boomer generation reported feeling lonely, and 49.9% of Gen Zers reported loneliness in 2019.
Loneliness is especially a big issue in our country right now, with kids largely being homeschooled due to COVID-19 (although some school districts across the country and in Texas are beginning to open to in-person instruction). The way a lot of our students are connecting now is through online tools. But lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning. Low-income students are also less likely to have an environment conducive to learning like a quiet space with minimal distraction or high-speed internet. The data shows that only 60% of low-income students are regularly logging into online instruction. This barrier to technology and education can have significant impacts down the road.
With the anxiety of the changes in how school is taught, how can we help our kids navigate the current COVID-19 pandemic and loneliness epidemic with resiliency? Dr. Lustig says children are naturally resilient, but we also need to remember to check in with them, listen without judgment, and without interrupting. Listen to your child until there is nothing else to be heard. Normalize difficult feelings and model that difficult emotions are okay by sharing how you manage your frustrations. Dr. Lustig says we must also help kids master the emotional ABCs: ambiguity, bumps, and change. We must help them practice accepting and not knowing, recognize they can’t control all the outcomes, permit imperfection, and remember how they’ve managed change in the past while staying in the present.
We can also help our kids prepare for online and in-person instruction through shifting routines and sleep schedules into school mode, talking about school differences and similarities, acknowledging their worries, and expressing confidence in their abilities to navigate school in whatever format it takes.
Dr. Lustig says to remember to care for yourself as well. Take a look at the Cigna Stress Plan [https://www.cigna.com/takecontrol/tc/stress/] to help you figure out how to manage stress, especially since many of us are grieving the freedom and stress reduction techniques we took for granted that are now no longer available to us.
We are unfamiliar ground, without a real playbook for parenting during the pandemic. Good enough is the standard – there are no perfect parents, and mistakes are how we learn. Not only can we help our children thrive through the pandemic, but we can also make sure we succeed as well. Watch the full webinar for more great information on loneliness and tips on parenting from Dr. Lustig.