After a very challenging 2020, the 87th Texas Legislature will convene as scheduled on January 12th, 2021. Undoubtedly, this will be a very different session. Both the House and Senate are developing safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which may limit access or place safety requirements on visitors. You can read recent information on visiting the Capitol here. However, we believe this is a great opportunity for our members across the state to become more involved virtually, and we encourage you to join our Advocacy Committee. Although this Session will be like no other, TACFS is hard at work to educate and advocate for the issues that most affect our members, and the children and families of Texas they serve.
POLICY PRIORITIES 2021
1) Support child- and family-serving organizations through COVID-19 and beyond
The ongoing pandemic has posed unique challenges for TACFS member organizations as they serve at-risk children, youth and families. Children and youth in care have often experienced severe trauma before coming into the child welfare system and are now coping with the pandemic and compounding trauma. This impacts efforts to provide necessary services, restore stability, and create a sense of normalcy. Families are struggling in a number of ways. The state is now reckoning with delays in services and care needed to provide for positive outcomes for children and youth and strengthen families. It is critical to invest in the full continuum of care -- prevention, youth services, family preservation, foster care, adoption and beyond -- that will keep the state’s safety net strong and reinforce the child and youth-serving caregivers and professionals. In addition, the quick and widespread vaccination of the child welfare workforce is a necessary step toward providing the full range of needed services.
2) Expand mental and behavioral health services for at-risk children, youth and families
Mental health services are a critical component to support the children, youth and families served by TACFS members - across the full continuum. From prevention and family preservation to keep families strong and kids safe at home, to those in foster care aimed to heal trauma and provide for bright outcomes, all the way to adoption, post-adoption and post-permanency - qualified, trauma informed mental health services are essential. However, organizations struggle to recruit and retain qualified clinicians. A concerted effort and additional resources are needed to recruit and retain more mental health service providers into the child welfare system. This investment can eliminate systemic issues such as families entering or re-entering the child welfare system, children in foster care without a home, and strong, thriving families after leaving the child welfare system.
3) Continue implementation and growth of community-based care
TACFS supports the DFPS plan to move forward with Community-Based Care in four new catchment areas and while funding the next stages of implementation in existing catchment areas. This will require the state to adopt an updated rate methodology to reflect modern practices and support each individual community. It is also necessary to invest in smart, interoperable data system and technology that will further support CBC and innovation.
4) Increase and improve family preservation services
It is important for the Legislature to build on community resources and services aimed to keep families together and keep children safe at home, as supported by the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). Building a robust array of community family support programs, including but not limited to FFPSA eligible programs, will allow for more families to receive help and supports to avoid foster care. The state will rely on community organizations to carry out FFPSA, and the state should invest in this area of services and align with ongoing implementation efforts.
5) Ensure clear and equitable oversight of the foster care system
Texas is implementing reforms resulting from a nearly decade-long foster care lawsuit. Part of the reform process should be ensuring that oversight is clear and constructive and that it does not disproportionately pull resources away from direct care. In fact, it is through investments in direct care that the state can most effectively respond to the concerns the lawsuit raises.
COVID-19 POLICY RESPONSE
COVID-19 Vaccine Comments
Due to COVID-19 service providers have endured several expenses that had not been included in the fiscal year budget. These providers have spent thousands of dollars to accommodate COVID-19 and make sure their services do not dwindle to care for our most vulnerable population, children. Additionally, children have not had the chance to resume their normal school activities and have limited interactions with what we typically consider "normal". By prioritizing the populations who work and live in the child welfare system in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, foster children across the state of Texas can resume their normal activities and not endure any further trauma than COVID-19 is causing. Keep reading.
COVID-19 and Ongoing Needs Testimony
Risk factors for child abuse and neglect are more present than any time in recent history: Texans are struggling with financial hardship, mental health concerns, and studies show substance use is on the rise. In addition, the resulting isolation from the pandemic has left our support systems weak. For our members that serve at-risk children, youth, and families in prevention and family preservation services this time has required an innovative approach to care seeking new ways to identify and serve families in need of support. We are at a critical juncture and we must invest in supporting healthy and strong families. We strongly believe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will outlive the virus, and we urge the Legislature to invest in this critical part of the state‘s safety net. Keep reading.