April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and as state lawmakers continue to chart a direction for Texas at the Capitol, it’s an important time to highlight the critical need for family preservation services. The Legislature recently began hearing bills that would reform and reinforce these services. Family preservation is a form of prevention services for those families already involved in the system, is intended to keep vulnerable children and families safe and together and prevent the type of abuse that would warrant removal.
In the coming weeks, legislators will begin to hammer out a state budget for the next two years.
A budget is, effectively, a statement of priorities; the Legislature directs state resources to programs and services that it believes are most important to the state’s well-being. And with meaningful investments in robust family preservation services, the state can not only help prevent child abuse, but it can also help address the shortage of foster care placements throughout the state right now. When these services work for a family, a child can avoid foster care.
This is not just a Texas conversation. Legislation signed into law in 2018 enacted the Family First Prevention Services Act, a major shift in federal child-welfare policy. This Act allowed dollars that could previously only be spent more directly on foster care to be spent on preservation services in order to keep families intact. Policymakers are increasingly recognizing that keeping kids safe at home and families well-supported puts less strain on other aspects of the child-welfare system and, more importantly, provides better outcomes for kids.
But it is a conversation that is uniquely important at this moment in time. As a result of the pandemic, many families already at risk have faced greater financial instability, mental and physical health issues, and increased stress and uncertainty. The timing is also important because, laudably, Texas is putting greater emphasis on pulling together services from across a community in child welfare as opposed to a state-focused, top-down model.
Right now, family preservation services in Texas are limited — and they are getting limited results. Today, the approximately 20,000 families involved in the family preservation stage of service – also called Family Based Safety Services (FBSS) – may only get drug testing, regular visits from a CPS caseworker, time-limited day care for their kids, and on occasion a referral to a service such as parenting classes. We know this is not working because the data shows that when children exit FBSS, within 1 year almost 20% are subsequently alleged as a victim in an investigation.
One in five families will come back to the attention of CPS. That number jumps to over 40% within 5 years.
But there is reason to be optimistic. The leaders of the Texas Senate Health & Human Services Committee (SB 1896, Kolkhorst) and the Texas House Human Services Committee (HB 3041, Frank) have both proposed legislation that would strengthen family preservation in Texas and move to draw down new federal funding available for these services. The Department of Family and Protective Services has requested additional funding to support prevention and family preservation, and we are optimistic that legislators writing the state budget will listen to those requests.
To learn more about these services and why investing in them matters, we invite you to join our Facebook Live conversation on April 22 with TACFS member High Sky Children’s Ranch, where ED JaLynn Hogan will share the latest updates on High Sky’s prevention program.This discussion will be helpful to all of us who advocate for vulnerable children and families and illuminate the real-life impact of decisions made at the Capitol.
With investments in family preservation services, our lawmakers can build on existing community resources and keep families together.