The Texas Legislature ended its regular biennial session this week after making a number of reforms and investments that will improve care and strengthen services in the child welfare system.
Throughout the 140-day session, the TACFS team worked closely with legislators from both political parties to champion the needs of children, youth and families. Our member organizations provided a critical voice by helping legislators understand the everyday realities of the system, the impact of the pandemic, and the difference that could be made through targeted investments and effective reforms.
Our team worked closely with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Senate Bill 1896, a sweeping reform of the state’s foster care system, filed by Chair Lois Kolkhorst. Sen. Kolkhorst’s bill will allow community organizations to better serve children in foster care while also bringing a number of needed reforms to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). The bill addresses many issues raised through both the federal foster care lawsuit and the current capacity crisis, including:
- Requires state agencies to work with providers to develop a plan for more capacity in the foster care system, with emphasis on serving children and youth who have mental health needs and on creation of reserve capacity
- Expands and provides greater flexibility for Treatment Foster Care
- Develops an “early warning system” for at-risk providers
- Strengthens human trafficking screening and programming in residential facilities
- Reinforces supports for kinship families, including a provisional license for kinship caregivers and emphasizes Permanency Care Assistance benefits for families
- Requires improved transition planning for youth in residential care
- Looks to expand utilization of STAR Health services
The Legislature solidified Community Based Care (CBC) as the clear direction for the state’s child welfare system. The state budget for the next two years funds CBC in existing areas, extends it to four new areas of the state, and provides $34 million for capacity growth in CBC regions through items such as rate increases, grants, and incentives. Senate Bill 1896 also enacts a number of needed reforms to CBC: It creates the Office of the CBC Transition, which will be attached to DFPS and overseen by a joint legislative committee; it provides explicit authority for Single Source Continuum Contractors to utilized unlicensed care (equivalent to that of DFPS); and it expands the definition of CBC to include preventing foster care, reunification, and family preservation.
The funding for expanded capacity within CBC is especially needed at a time when there is a shortage of placements and record numbers of children are sleeping in state offices. Budget-writers did not provide additional funding for expanding capacity for areas of the state that are part of the legacy system rather than CBC. Importantly, however, the final version of the state budget includes language — initiated by TACFS — calling for the development and implementation of a new foster care rate methodology for CBC and the legacy system.
With the regular legislative session concluded, we will continue to visit with TACFS member organizations about the many new laws and funding provisions that will affect child welfare. We also encourage members to visit with local legislators about the results of the session and the ongoing needs of the child-welfare system. Governor Greg Abbott has said he will call the Legislature back into special session to work on priorities of his that the Legislature did not fully address. While those issues are not directly related to child welfare, the Governor can add any issue to the agenda for a special session. It is anticipated one of those issues will include federal funding. TACFS will be working with our state partners to see if any of that funding can support services to support capacity in particular.
TACFS is grateful for the partnership of legislators who provide leadership on child-welfare issues and the input of our member organizations. We are ready to build on these policy victories and work with other stakeholders to improve the system further. You can read more about what happened this Session and check out our toolkit here.