Two members of the TACFS Board of Directors spoke this week to a Senate committee looking at how the state’s Child Protective Services agency cares for children.
TACFS Board Members Allicia Frye and Scott Lundy were invited to testify at a May 3 hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services, which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick created it earlier this year. They highlighted several challenges facing community organizations that provide child welfare services — challenges including rising costs for staff and liability insurance, a funding model that does not reflect the true cost of serving children who have experienced severe trauma, and the process of navigating various levels of oversight.
“Things have got to change,” said Frye, who is the CEO of Garland-based Jonathan’s Place and the President of the TACFS Board. “Partnership with the state has never been strong and is getting weaker and weaker. The impact of changes on nonprofits may seem minor to some but can wreak havoc on your budget and your agency. There’s a heavy focus on problems and not on good outcomes.”
Frye discussed the various types of programs that Jonathan’s Place has added to its continuum of care over the years, from a growing emphasis on foster care to services that work directly with trafficking survivors.
“We want to be there to meet the needs of our community and if the community says, ‘we need a sex-trafficking program,’ we’re going to find a way to do it,” Frye said. “If the community says, ‘we want kids in a least-restrictive environment, we’re going to do that as well.’”
Lundy, the CEO of Arrow Child and Family Ministries, which is based in Spring, sounded concern about the impact of the often-disjointed layers of oversight and punishment put on organizations serving children
“The regulatory environment is oppressive, disjointed and siloed, reactive, and is making the system less stable and safe versus more stable and safe,” Lundy said. “Regulation is important, and it needs to hold those that serve kids accountable to desired results. Regulation, however, needs to be consistent, clearly defined, and focused on things that really matter for children/youth to be safe and for the system to improve. Currently, the regulatory system is most punitive to providers that serve children/youth with very complex trauma and behaviors.”
Remarks from Dr. Peter Ciborowski, founder of Sheltering Harbor, a TACFS member and residential treatment center based in Spring, TX, echoed this sentiment. He remarked that with heightened monitoring in place, organizations like Sheltering Harbor find themselves at a turning point. They hope to both meet rigorous standards while preserving capacity.
Lundy ended his testimony with one unifying message.
“DFPS, SSCCs, Judge Jack, HHSC, the Legislature, and providers all want the same thing. We want children and youth that enter the child welfare system to exit as quickly as possible, to be safe in care, to begin healing from their trauma and to exit better than when they came in.”
Also at the hearing, Dr. Eugene Wang, a professor of Community, Family, and Addiction Sciences at Texas Tech University, spoke about his 2020 report and process, Evalution on Community-Based Care. He detailed several key improvements to the procedure by which CBC regions are created and implied that he will be publishing another report soon.
In fact, broad support for the CBC model was voiced at the hearing. Frye, for example, described it as a more collaborative approach that allows a child-serving organization to more easily get help for a child than the traditional foster care model does.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the Chair of the Special Committee, described the hearing as an opportunity to “step back and see if we’re doing the right thing for children.”
She said, “We must ask ourselves if the system is serving the children or those adults operating the system, where is the oversight, and what are the consequences of failure within our maze of a system.”
The committee will meet again on May 16 and may meet again in the fall, Sen. Kolkhorst said.