During a year of major changes and criticism of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Legislators are getting ready to overhaul the department. State leaders issued a directive in October in light of “the backlog of children not seen within the statutory guidelines remains nearly unchanged since the spring.” They called upon the Texas legislature to make budget decisions in their 85th Legislative Session to address the ongoing resource needs at DFPS (which manages Child Protective Services).
These state leaders are asking for more case workers and investigators, a culture of accountability, and more agency partnerships with local faith based organizations.
“I’ve been on a committee and we’ve been to several different cities and we’ve heard horrific stories from some of the children in the CPS system and foster care, and the results are unacceptable,” said Dustin Burrows, State Representative for District 83. “I’m very proud of the (House) speaker and the governor and the lieutenant governor for saying this is gonna be a priority next session.”
Representative Burrows explained that the legislature has talked about making changes to DFPS before, but this session funding those changes will be a main focus.
“We’ve already seen a new commissioner put in place to try and shake some things up. We want to make sure we give him the tools and resources he needs to make sure we have better results,” Burrows said referring to the appointment of DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman this year.
Burrows has been busy researching and gaining insight before he heads in to the 85th session of the Texas legislature which begins January 10, 2017. Already there are a few things Burrows believes need to be funded when it comes to DFPS:
“More CPS workers, better CPS worker retention, supporting our faith based community who is providing a lot of the services, then taking a look at the family members to try and make sure that we put them in a position where they can care for the children,” he said.
Burrows explained that Commisioner Whitman will be responsible for shaping many of the policy changes in DFPS, it will be the legislature’s job to provide Whitman with the tools and funding to make those changes a reality.
Burrows is especially concerned with curbing the turnover that exists for employees in the CPS system as well as funding faith based organizations that support abused and neglected children in the community.
“One of the big things [in Lubbock] historically is our faith based community has really stepped up and we have great institutions that provide a lot of the services. I want to make sure they have a seat at the table this next session,” he said.
One of those faith based organizations on the South Plains is the Children’s Home of Lubbock, a facility that supports and houses children who in need.
“I’m really excited about the changes they’re trying to push forward,” said Mary Lauren Taylor, Child Placing Program Director for the Children’s Home. “One of the things they’re trying to do is increase the number of foster and adoptive homes which is something that’s really needed across the state. It’s really hard for kids to come into care and get separated from their siblings, and if there’s no placements in their region they get sent our of town to another place where they don’t know anyone.”
Taylor has worked with helping at-risk children for a decade, and she said that the recent coverage of the DFPS overhaul is giving the public a clearer picture of how CPS and foster care work in Texas.
“The caseworkers have such a difficult job and they’re paid so little, so it makes it hard for them to stick around and it makes it more difficult on the child and their family to get to reunification or adoption down the road,”
Taylor explained that there just aren’t enough beds for the many kids in the South Plains who need to be placed in foster care. She’s hoping that community members and churches in the Lubbock area step up and help provide foster homes to support many children who otherwise might not find homes in the region.
“This is a problem for the community as a whole, not just the agencies that work with CPS kids,” she said.
She also hopes that when legislators head to Austin in January, that they keep Texas children in focus.
“I would hope that when they’re going through the different policies that are in place that they remember that these are kids and they are the most helpless and [defenseless] in our community, they need someone to step up for them and help them have a better life than they might currently have,” she said.