AUSTIN- Today, the House Select Committee on Child Protection released an interim report detailing recommendations to create efficiencies and advance service delivery within the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and to improve positive outcomes for children impacted by the system. The report includes opportunities to close unintentional gaps in care that emerge and threaten child safety as children move through various stages of service.
“The recommendations are designed to strengthen child protection without overburdening a system already under a considerable amount of review and transformation,” said state Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Pflugerville), chair of the Select Committee. “It is the goal of the committee to ensure the numerous recommendations, from the Select Committee, the Sunset Commission and the Stephen Group, are integrated and serve as a guide to DFPS in order to obtain stability in its operation and culture.”
Four public hearings held before the Select Committee revealed new and long-standing opportunities to improve DFPS transparency and effectiveness that will ultimately serve the best interest of children. The report highlights six areas in need of additional review by DFPS: prevention and early intervention; investigation; workforce; information sharing; assessment and screening of providers; and normalcy and child rights.
Dukes said the recommendations are not punitively focused but geared toward increasing accountability within child protection and strengthening children and families. The committee emphasizes the importance of prevention and early intervention programs. The committee not only supports further evaluation of the programs, but also the expansion of community-based efforts to additional high-risk populations.
The committee recommends DFPS strengthen tracking and location efforts for children designated as unable-to-determine or missing who are alleged victims with an open CPS investigation or who are currently under the direct supervision of the department. The report promotes the expansion of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas pilot program with Statewide Intake and law enforcement in order to safeguard cases from being overlooked in the system.
Caseworker turnover has proven not only to be a burden on the agency but also to place children at risk. The committee recommends retention efforts including: merit-based advancement opportunities; differential salary based on location; co-location with Child Advocacy Centers; manageable workload; and student loan repayment assistance.
The Texas Faith Based Model which engages the faith community in providing assistance to foster families is an invaluable and proven asset to the state. The committee supports efforts to expand this model. With respect to caregiver assessment, the committee proposes that foster care home verifications be updated annually to reflect changes in the household and to evaluate safety measures. The committee recommends several measures to encourage youth and family engagement. In addition, the committee recommends processes to strengthen reunification efforts and permanency for children impacted by the system.
“Make no mistake, the safety and well-being of Texas children is vital not only to their own well-being, but also to the future success of the state,” said Dukes. “Extensive research has shown how positive child development leads to healthy, stable adults who contribute to a strong workforce lessening the need for future state-supported services.”
The Select Committee was formed by House Speaker Joe Straus on May 15, 2014 and given several charges including studying the incidence of child abuse and neglect fatalities in the state; conducting a broad review of practices and procedures that aim to protect the well-being of children under the purview of state agencies; and identifying statutory opportunities to improve outcomes for children in state care. Membership of the committee includes: Cindy Burkett (Mesquite), Jessica Farrar (Houston), John Frullo (Lubbock), Toni Rose (Dallas), Tony Dale (Cedar Park), James Frank (Wichita Falls), Bobby Guerra (Hidalgo), and J.D. Sheffield (Gatesville).