When children and youth enter foster care, they have often experienced severe trauma, which is compounded by removal from their homes. Kids are now coping with a pandemic on top of what they have already experienced. Child- and family-serving organizations must have direct care staff and caregivers ready to care for these kids. But the ongoing pandemic has only increased the difficulty of meeting this population’s needs.

One of the most important steps legislators can take this year to strengthen the safety net for vulnerable children and youth across Texas is to invest in the foster care direct care workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened a number of challenges facing the workforce at Child Placing Agencies and other community organizations serving kids in the foster care system.

Although organizations are contracted and funded by the state, it has been difficult for many organizations to pay competitive wages. The state has heavily invested in wages for Child Protective Services staff, putting community organizations at a hiring and retention disadvantage. An ongoing federal foster care lawsuit has also put new funding burdens on these organizations, ranging for higher costs for new information technology costs to additional training.

COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues. According to a survey of child-serving community organizations, the pandemic has made it more difficult to recruit and retain staff to work in organizations that, by their very nature, require in-person contact with children and youth around the clock. There has also been a greater need for staffing hours, forcing organizations to pay more in overtime and bonus pay. Meanwhile, philanthropic funding has decreased.

In order to help organizations provide and fund the workforce they need to serve vulnerable children and youth, TACFS recommends legislators provide an additional $25 million in state and federal funds for the foster care direct care workforce so that organizations can fully support children and families by recruiting and retaining a qualified and dedicated workforce.

Supporting child- and family-serving organizations through COVID-19 and beyond is among our top policy priorities for 2021. Investing in the workers on the front lines of serving children, youth, and families is a good and necessary place to start.