A Social Work Career in CPS Research and Policy – Episode 6

Do you ever wonder what it looks like to be a political social worker? Kerrie Judice joins us to discusses her social work background, her current role as a CPS Research and Policy Analyst for TexProtects, and her thoughts on social work and politics.

Kerrie is a Licensed Master Social Worker and is the CPS Research and Policy Analyst for TexProtects. During the interview, Kerrie describes her background in social work practice, expressing her passion for advocating for Texas’ most vulnerable youth. She worked directly with children in the foster care system for 8 years; researched restorative justice practices to divert youth from the juvenile justice system; served as a policy analyst in the Texas Senate. She is now advocating for policies that will positively impact children and families in the CPS system.

TexProtects is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group that advocates for children in the CPS system, working all along the prevention spectrum. Kerrie does a deep dive into a day in the life of a social worker in advocacy, discussing what it looks like to work as a Research and Policy Analyst. Come find out how her history in micro social work practice helps her to be a better macro social worker.

The Social Work Amplified Podcast is hosted by SPEAK. SPEAK stands for Social Policy, Education, Advocacy, and Knowledge. SPEAK’s mission is to amplify the voices of social workers in politics and social policy by providing resources, increasing students’ political engagement and facilitating networking opportunities. SPEAK would like to gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Simmons Sister Fund at Texas Women’s Foundation.

Check out the other podcast episodes in the Social Work Amplified playlist! https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLg…

Children’s advocacy group discusses Texas foster care crisis

The Texas foster care system has too many problems to detail in just a short TV interview. But for a taste of how bad it is, Good Day talks to Kerrie Judice with the children’s advocacy group TexProtects. She said there are too many foster kids and not enough foster homes, which leaves children sleeping in hotels and CPS offices, as well as places that are called dangerous.

Opinion: Build Back Better can transform lives of millions of Texas children

We can’t talk about the future of Texas without talking about the well-being of our children.

During the last Texas legislative session, policymakers set a vision and passed legislation that will substantially improve outcomes for our youngest children. Now, we have an opportunity to realize the vision and the potential to transform millions of lives to catapult Texas into a future that is healthier, safer and more prosperous for everyone.

The Build Back Better Act, voted out of the House on Nov. 15 and awaiting a vote in the Senate, would provide once-in-a-lifetime funding for early childhood initiatives. Should it pass Congress, it could potentially grant $400 billion in social infrastructure across the nation. Funding allocation and implementation would be determined at the state level, but the figure would be significant enough to dramatically transform childhood wel-lbeing. Texas policymakers face a pivotal moment in history – and they must seize it.

Read the full article at Austin American Statesman.

Dallas County ARPA Funding Proposal for Child Welfare

Dear Judge Jenkins and Commissioners Price, Garcia, Daniel, and Koch,

On behalf of TexProtects and the 8 other undersigned local community organizations that advocate for and serve children and youth in Dallas County, we write to urge you to consider the enclosed strategies in American Rescue Plan funding decisions for Dallas County.

There is a current crisis within our CPS and Foster Care systems that requires the attention of our local government. As you are likely aware, the immediate crisis at hand is a historically unprecedented lack of capacity for child beds in foster care. The number of children without placements continue to worsen by the month and there is little relief in sight due to a variety of factors. The approximate 25 children without homes in the county at any given time is just a symptom of many deeper challenges facing the state’s foster care system, which many believe to be on the brink of imploding.

We believe there is a significant opportunity for the County to invest one-time federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars in both the prevention of future child removals and future child maltreatment which will alleviate the burden of capacity challenges our county faces. Both investments could realize savings to the county, but most importantly, save the innocence and prospects of our most vulnerable children. While the outcomes most proximal to these strategies are related to child maltreatment reductions, such investments will also yield positive outcomes for early childhood education, maternal and infant health, behavioral health, and youth at risk of entering our juvenile systems, which have all been severely impacted by the pandemic.

As eligible through ARPA guidance, such strategies outlined as follows, including spending on public health strategies at local hospitals on programs such as Family Connects, or providing improved monetary assistance to Child Placing Agencies and relative caregivers, the County can contribute significantly to alleviating the challenges facing our child welfare system. Funding is just one of many actions that will need to be taken. Each strategy outlines the cost, children impacted, cost-benefit, metrics, and timeline use of such funding. The County holds existing contracts with several entities engaged in these strategies that could be leveraged and expedite the process in reaching these children.

All of you have played a significant role in supporting children over the years and the child protection community is extremely grateful for your support. We also recognize these challenges cannot be solved solely at a state level but also, by utilizing federal funds, need to be aggressively pursued by our community who has the ultimate responsibility in caring for the children in our midst.

We appreciate your consideration of this extremely timely and critical matter. Regards, Sophie Phillips, CEO TexProtects

TexProtects has put forth three key strategies to increase the number of home-based and kinship placements for children entering or at risk of entering foster care within Dallas County to address the foster care capacity crisis and mitigate substantially increased risk of child abuse and neglect that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic on the root causes of child maltreatment with the four-pronged approach below totaling $30.2 million ARPA with 26,597 children impacted.

 Strategy #1: Investment in increased rate for child-placing agencies to provide better quality and increase foster care placement to reduce strain on foster care capacity crisis.

Total Proposed Investment: $5.7 million Total Children Impacted: 1,230

 Strategy #2: Investment in monetary assistance for relative caregivers to prevent children from entering foster care and reduce strain on foster care capacity crisis.

Total Proposed Investment: $17 million

Total Children Impacted: 1,737 (a subset of 3,500 children in substitute care placements in Dallas County during FY2020)

 Strategy #3: Investment in community-based child abuse prevention programs. Total proposed investment: $1 million

Total Children Impacted: 12,930

Click to view PDF.

The critical foster care reforms in Texas are having unintended consequences

Recently, we have been reading about foster children sleeping in Child Protective Services offices as if sleeping in offices is our child welfare crisis. Sleeping in CPS offices is a symptom of the real crisis, which is that today 524 children don’t have foster care placements. This shortage of placements is a symptom of even deeper and more complex challenges that put the entire foster care system, which cares for 30,000 children, at risk of cratering. Many factors have led us to these dire circumstances.

First, the Texas foster care system has been the subject of litigation since 2011, alleging violations of children’s rights. The case is before federal Judge Janice Graham Jack, who ruled that Texas was in fact violating children’s rights in foster care by subjecting them to abuse, overmedication and repeated placements.

The system needed reform, and although well-intentioned, there have been many unintended consequences resulting from Judge Jack’s orders.

For example, additional regulations ordered by the judge have resulted in increased citations for infractions, some minor, with little to no due process. While such citations are meant to improve safety, it has not been transparent as to how providers can remedy such infractions.

These regulations have driven up costs, with the expectation that the state will continue to pick up the ever-increasing tab. Meanwhile, the new regulations have shifted provider attention away from providing quality care, the intent of the lawsuit, to chasing the ever-changing and elusive paper tiger of compliance.

As a result, several providers of poorer quality have been rightfully shut down, but we also are losing much of the existing quality capacity that was insufficient to begin with.

Concurrently, the Texas Legislature is moving ahead with privatizing the foster care system, known as community-based care, in which the state pays regional private entities to administer foster care instead of the state. Given this new environment, entities that receive contracts may not receive sufficient reimbursement to care for children, cover costs and absorb the regulatory risk. We must be prepared in case of failure and question what the alternative will be if the privatization is not successful.

We cannot keep pointing fingers for the situation we are in because of our collective inability to solve the problem. Immediate action is needed.

Read the full article at the Dallas Morning News.

Urgent Action We Need to Take in the Face of Texas’ Child Protective Services Crisis

Statement from TexProtects CEO Sophie Phillips on urgent actions we need to take in the face of Texas’ Child Protective Services crisis May 10, 2021

For immediate release

Last week, a new report and a recent court hearing in the decades-long lawsuit against the foster care system in Texas, along with news of an increase in instances of children sleeping in CPS offices, demonstrated, once
again, that the foster care system in Texas has a long way to go to ensure
that children in state care are safe and well.

The new report by court-appointed monitors for state agencies in charge of the system revealed that 23 children died in the state’s care since July 2019, and many others experienced serious trauma. What some are calling a “foster care capacity” crisis has resulted in the use of unlicensed facilities, with 339 children sleeping at least one night in a CPS office since August 2020 and disrupted the stability and success in some regions where Community-Based Care is being implemented.

Despite meaningful improvement and progress by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and providers, continued challenges make clear that we desperately need a transformative change in
our child protection system.

A number of bills by the chairs of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the House Human Services committee look to do just that.

  • SB 1896 by Sen. Kolkhorst and sponsored by Rep. Frank has passed the Senate and is being heard in House Human Services on May 11. This bill aims to address capacity issues and provide safe, higher quality placements, as well as better oversight and transparency.
  • HB 567 by Rep. Frank and Sen. Hughes has already passed and has been sent to the Governor. This bill has a wide array of changes to the child protection system; all meant to keep families together and prevent removals, which will place less of a burden on the foster care system.
  • SB 1575 by Sen. Kolkhorst and HB 4476 by Rep. Oliverson have both gotten hearings in their respective chambers. SB 1575 has passed the House, and HB 4476 is pending in the House Human Services committee. This bill tries to help children get the best possible placement, like those required by the Family First Prevention Services Act.

    However, more work must be done to ensure that no victim of child abuse or neglect has to sleep in a state office after removal from their home or face abuse or neglect while in state care. To get there, we must advocate for:

    • Appropriate funding for services and providers and appropriate oversight, support, and enforcement to ensure safety and quality.
    • Manageable caseloads for workers in the child protection system so they can provide effective supports to families and children consistently and appropriately.
    • Slowing the rate of children and families who come to the front door of our child protection system. This requires investments in proven prevention programs and effective family supports that get at the root causes of abuse and neglect and strengthen families.

      Visit here for more details on all of TexProtects legislative priorities.

      When families have access to evidence-based supports at the right time, we can avert crises and, in most cases, ensure that families can stay together safely. Prevention programs, which currently only make up five percent of the DFPS budget, produce cost savings for the state, keep children safe, and keep families together.

      We need state investments in the Prevention and Early Intervention Division at DFPS that would create part of a family wellbeing system that could limit the use of our child protection system. Investments like these would leverage federal funding available through the Family First Prevention Services Act; increase economic supports for families; and increase access to healthcare, substance use treatment, and mental health care.

      When we invest in families and children, Texas taxpayers benefit. Taxpayers would be paying for the outcomes we want instead of paying for the problems we had the power to prevent. Ultimately, the goal for Texas should be ensuring that few, if any, children ever experience abuse, neglect, or removal from their families. We know this is possible because we know child abuse is preventable.

      About TexProtects

      TexProtects works to build strong, safe childhoods by developing and driving smart solutions to child abuse and neglect. As the only nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy organization in Texas focused solely on the issue of child abuse and neglect prevention, TexProtects:

      • Informs the public by leveraging the latest research and data-driven strategies to take the problem of child maltreatment head-on
      • Collaborates with allies by working with those who believe children are the future of our state – from policymakers on both sides of the aisle to frontline workers in local communities
      • Advocates for smart policies and programs that get to the root of these persistent issues and build strong, stable foundations for childhood

      TexProtects knows that when children and families thrive, so will Texas.

      Media Contacts:

      Meggie Abendschein, 512-423-5888
      Gloria Lerma, 832-398-2366

      Click to view PDF of statement.

Texas Must Make a Transformative Change in Child Protection and Foster Care

The Texas winter freeze and power outages are once-in-a-lifetime events that qualify as collective trauma for all of us. However, for Texans who were already in need or disproportionately affected by COVID-19, these events are compounding record-high levels of stress.

This crisis reminds us there is a clear and urgent need to put children and their families first this legislative session.

We need to ensure the immediate safety and protection of children who are survivors of child abuse and neglect. While events like the winter storm do not define families already under stressful circumstances, nor lead to child abuse, they do draw attention to the fact that thousands of children and families need our help and support more than ever. And we must work with the legislature on smart solutions to invest in upstream programs that prevent child abuse and neglect and mitigate the negative impact of events like these.

We are encouraged to see Gov. Greg Abbott’s vow to bring the state of Texas into compliance with the longstanding lawsuit against the Texas Foster Care system, recognizing that it is fundamental to ensuring the immediate safety and protection of the nearly 50,000 children who are survivors of child abuse and neglect and come through the state’s foster care doors every year needing help and protection. However, we know the foster care system has caused trauma that is on par, if not more significant, than what initially launched them into foster care.

The governor’s vow is a substantial promise and will require from our legislature this session an investment to the tune of $126 million — significant, yet worth every penny to protect the safety of our children. However, compliance with the lawsuit will not bring about transformational change. It is just the foundation and floor we must build upon.

An investment of $126 million to address the many issues in the lawsuit will not erase the trauma children in the foster care system have suffered. It will not support and protect children and families from reaching critical tipping points caused by unaddressed trauma and stress.

Read the full article at the Dallas Morning News.

Winter Storm Uri Reminds Us To Put Kids and Families First This Legislative Session

Dallas – Last week was hard for all of us; it was heartbreaking and traumatizing for Texans. We hope you and your loved ones are faring well after what seemed like a week that would never end.

As the beautiful weather ushers out the intense cold of last week, many of us are fortunate enough to put these hardships behind us. While many of us can ease back into some stability and normalcy, maybe with an anecdotal story about the hardships or inconveniences we experienced, they are likely different than the stories of families that were in an existing storm of what surely feels like insurmountable challenges.

Too many Texans who are already experiencing a too-wide disparity gap and who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 will see the aftermath of the winter storms compound already record-high levels of stress and trauma.

This crisis reminds us there is a clear and urgent need to put children and their families first in this legislative session.

We need to ensure the immediate safety and protection of children who are survivors of child abuse and neglect. We must work with the Legislature on smart solutions to invest in upstream programs that prevent child abuse and neglect and mitigate the negative impact of events like Winter Storm Uri.

Although Texas families are experiencing back-to-back, once-in-a-lifetime events, we at TexProtects recognize that these hardships do not define families nor lead to child abuse. But what we do know is that thousands of little precious lives and families need our help and support more than ever. It’s our collective responsibility to ensure we have networks in place for families to turn to.

Here are ways you can help:

  1. Look for ways to help your community by donating or volunteering.
  2. Learn to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect and how to help

    families in need.

  3. Encourage policymakers to listen to their constituents’ stories and work across

    the aisle for the common good of children and the state. You can even share

    your own story!

Thank you for your support and your dedication to helping us build safer childhoods for all children to secure Texas’s future.

Click to view PDF.

The safety of our children is not an either-or-situation

Read the latest op-ed by Sophie Phillips, TexProtects CEO, at the Austin-American Statesman.

“We must consider additional actions we can take to prevent children from experiencing the trauma of abuse altogether. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, nearly 80 percent of child abuse in Texas is severe neglect often caused by a lack of basic supports or skills, unhealthy coping mechanisms, or underlying mental health challenges, all of which parents and caregivers can be equipped to combat if provided access to needed support. The proven, most effective way to prevent abuse and neglect is to invest in community-driven prevention programs that get to root causes.”