The special legislative session is underway at the Texas Capitol and the agenda includes an opportunity to invest in the care and services needed by some our most vulnerable children and youth.

Gov. Greg Abbott has called on legislators to provide additional funding to address the shortage of appropriate placements for Texas kids experiencing foster care. Currently, there is a shortage of appropriate placements, causing a record number of kids to sleep in state offices.

Creating more room in the foster care system may sound like a simple problem to address, but it is actually a complex challenge requiring additional resources, public and private partnership and a clear strategic vision. The Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services held a symposium in late July to share data on the types of kids who lack placements, the reasons for the capacity shortage and — most importantly — what Texas could do to fix it. This information can be illustrative as state leaders begin addressing this challenge.

The kids who have been sleeping in state offices and other makeshift facilities — kids known as Children Without Placement, or CWOP — tend to be teenagers who have

highly specialized needs. They may need intense, therapeutic mental health services, or they may be prone to violence and other extreme behaviors due to the severe trauma they experienced before they were removed from their homes. And some come into care because their family didn’t get the support they needed in the home.

These young Texans, in other words, need more than a bed to sleep in at night. They need intense, personalized, trauma-informed care provided by properly trained and supported professionals who know how to meet their unique needs. It has been difficult for child-serving organizations to provide the services that all of these kids need for a variety of reasons. First, COVID-19 has slowed recruiting of new foster families and also caused delays in court hearings and other stops on the way to providing a child with a permanent home. Kids, as a result, are staying in the foster care system for longer periods of time.

Meanwhile, organizations that provide foster care services are facing new requirements and regulations requiring time and resources for compliance — pulling both away from direct care of kids. Plus, like many employers, organizations are struggling to hire and retain the qualified workers they need.

It’s important to recognize that additional investments are critical to serving high-needs kids who require greater support and supervision. The Legislature is currently considering a proposal for additional funding based on a child’s need as well as flexible funding, using state and/or federal revenue sources, to help organizations support caregivers, add, staff and provide the specialized trainings required to effectively work with this population of kids.

We should not expect a 30-day special legislative session to fix all of the capacity challenges that have built up over many months. Going forward, it will be important for legislators to closely consider longer-term updates to the funding system as well as policy changes and implementation of legislation that was passed into law earlier this year. Still, there is a chance to help these vulnerable young Texans over the next four weeks, and TACFS is grateful for the chance to work with legislators and agency officials to support investments in needed services and care.