The Texas Legislature will convene for its next 140-day session in January 2023, and preparations are well underway. The months leading up to a legislative session provide a golden opportunity for individuals and organizations to communicate with legislators about issues and challenges that need attention.
To guide those conversations and to provide a roadmap for legislative action next year, the Texas Alliance of Child & Family Services (TACFS) has developed Guiding Policy Priorities. One goal of these priorities is to put a spotlight on the most urgent needs facing children, youth, and families in the child welfare system. We want to start a conversation now so that legislators have the information and background they need to take meaningful action next year.
The Policy Priorities point to five broad goals:
Investments in proven family-focused programs can make families stronger and safer, allowing them to stay together and raise children in safe, loving environments. Proven prevention and family-preservation strategies delivered by community-based organizations can profoundly help children and families before a crisis or before more intervention is needed. Increased support and resources for kinship families can support families when there has been a removal, while also providing some normalcy and consistency for the child during a difficult time.
Supporting the Child-Serving Workforce
Between rising costs and salaries, many employers in Texas and nationwide have struggled to recruit and retain their workforce. This is especially true in child welfare, where it is critical to have highly trained and qualified professionals supporting at-risk Texans. These are not easy jobs, and require experience, passion, and dedication. In addition, when an organization is unable to support a certain number of staff, that can impact their ratios and the number of children or youth they can serve – which ultimately impacts capacity.
High-Quality Placements and Services
Recent state investments have helped sustain capacity in the foster care system, but it is essential that legislators continue to make investments to help community-based organizations build and deliver the range of services that children and youth in foster care need. At a time when child welfare faces significant shortages of qualified workers, support through rate increases or dedicated funding would help organizations provide needed staffing levels. It is also important that the state focus on well-funded, well-implemented Community Based Care and implementing a rate methodology that will reflect the cost of care rather than outdated formulas.
Safety is caregivers’ top priority, but punitive regulations that fail to recognize the realities of caring for children who have experienced trauma currently provide a disincentive to work with children and youth who have high needs. The trauma that children experience before they are placed in foster care can result in self-harm, aggression, and other challenging behaviors. The Legislature’s guidance will be needed to focus on core health and safety so that true safety risks are prioritized and addressed.
Mental Health Care for Texas’ Most Vulnerable Youth
Children and youth across the country face increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal behaviors. This is especially true for adolescents in the child welfare system whose experiences and trauma often create complex trauma. TACFS will be advocating for programs that effectively respond to crises and equip organizations with the resources they need to provide the continuum of mental health services that vulnerable children and youth need.
In the coming months, we will be breaking down these issues to help our members, partners, and legislators understand what the issues are and how to address them. Follow us on social media and check our website at tacfs.org as we share the stories of the TACFS network and the children and families they serve alongside more detailed information, background, and policy recommendations as we work together on these priorities.
TACFS members can join our Advocacy Committee by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to get more involved, and – we encourage all TACFS members to begin talking with legislators about these issues and others that need attention in order for Texas to provide a full range of high-quality services to children, youth, and families. If we engage early and often with those who represent us at the Texas Capitol, we can shape critical conversations, ensure our voices are heard, and help deliver meaningful solutions.