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.