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Child Protection Advocates: Focus on Prevention

Child Protective Services advocates and the commissioner that heads the agency think they have come up with one solution for the problems that are plaguing Texas. Their solution is to focus on prevention programs, including home visits.

Advocates say that budget cuts are not the answer and that federal funding is limited. KXAN in Austin reported that a spokesperson for TexProtects, Lee Nichols, said a prevention driven program “protects children and changes lives and it keeps them from ever going into the legal system, saves money on special education, all kinds of things across the board.”

Counties in the state bear the burden to provide funds for lawyers who represent parents once they get caught up in the system, as well as paying for regional offices and caseworkers and lawyers who represent the state agency.

Breitbart Texas reported that Texas Governor Greg Abbott named CPS reform one of his four emergency priorities for the 2017 Texas legislative session.

According to spokesman Patrick Crimmins, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Commissioner Hank Whitman has named prevention as “one of the points in his 10-point plan.”

In Commissioner Whitman’s letter to Governor Abbott dated July 5, 2016 he wrote:

The single best way to protect a young child from abuse or neglect is to provide young parents with the tools and resources to build a safe, healthy household – and avoid CPS involvement. Prevention is key, and our Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) programs must be expanded and strengthened. PEI programs are community-based and targeted to families most at risk. These programs are taking hold in communities and we are working hard to divert families from the child welfare system.

Texas State Representative Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) told Breitbart Texas, “I support policies and initiatives to keep children with their parents and out of the child welfare system. Programs designed to accomplish this will have an opportunity to make their case for funding during the appropriations process, and, we must carefully consider these requests.” Rep. Burrows served on the Texas House Committee on County Affairs last session and was a part of the legislative team that traveled the state studying the problems in the foster care and child protection system. He heard from child abuse and neglect experts in the various regions.

The Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) from the DFPS describes the state agency’s request for additional funding. In early October when DFPS was suffering from more bad press after media reports were blasting the agency for failing to timely follow-up on abuse and neglect reports, Breitbart Texas reported about the LAR requests by the agency.

The agency’s LAR for fiscal years 2018-2019 includes the following “EXCEPTIONAL ITEM REQUESTS.” As can be seen by the administrator’s statement in this LAR, DFPS is requesting funding “above the FY 2018-19 baseline request for six exceptional items totaling $498.1 million general revenue ($534.0 million All Funds).”

The LAR “Administrator Statement” provides, “New staffing requests total 1,823.4 FTEs in FY 2018 and 1,943.0 FTEs in FY 2019. This request builds on recent improvements and aligns with the ambitious goals in my 10-point plan. To be successful, this agency must have the resources to fortify and improve the child welfare system and provide young parents with resources to build safe and healthy homes.”

The exceptional items are grouped within eight goals:

  1. Increase Funding to Meet the Needs of the Growing Number of Vulnerable Children, Adults, and Their Families
  2. Increase Staff Resources to Achieve Better Outcomes for Vulnerable Children, Adults, and Their Families
  3. Enhance CPS Investigation Capacity to Improve Caseworker Decision Making
  4. Strengthen and Expand High Quality Capacity and Systems in the Foster Care System
  5. Increase Safety, Permanency, & Well-Being for Children & Youth through Sustaining CPS Transformation and Engaging Community Partners
  6. Expand and Strengthen Community-Based Prevention and Early Intervention Programs
  7. PLACEHOLDER: Further Improve High Quality Care for Children in Foster and Kinship Care
  8. PLACEHOLDER: Increase Funding to Retain a High Performing Workforce

Crimmins pointed to exception item #6. It totals $26.7 million (GR and all funds) and “supports the new strategy for PEI to focus on research and evaluation, data-driven decision-making, and expansion of evidence-based practices, improving contracting processes and contractor effectiveness, and more effective outreach to families and improved communication with community partners and stakeholders.”

He says the request would:

  1. Enhance PEI’s ability to conduct research, evaluation, and quality monitoring/reporting to inform programming;
  2. Ensure efficient and effective execution, management, and monitoring of contracts in an increasingly transparent and collaborative manner;
  3. Grow the state’s ability to proactively address child maltreatment and provide independent reviews, coordinate data and research with other state agencies, the health care industry, and national organizations, and provide training to agency staff – $1.4 million GR ($1.5 million all funds) and 9.4 FTEs by FY 2019;
  4. Grow public awareness campaigns to influence attitudes, beliefs and behaviors related to parenting and child safety – $2.9 million GR and all funds and 7.1 FTEs by FY 2019;
  5. Expand PEI services – $22.3 million GR and all funds and 4.1 FTEs by 2019;
  6. Shift contracting for STAR (Services to At-Risk Youth) to offer contractor flexibility to provide services beyond crisis intervention to families with children 6-17 years of age;
  7. Expand eligibility for evidence-based home visiting to a broader set of CPS high-risk families with very young children through Project HIP (Helping through Intervention & Prevention);
  8. Pilot a regional lead agency model to allow more community ownership over finding solutions to local issues;
  9. Increase the CYD (Community Youth Development) program by 10 percent;
  10. Increase HOPES (Healthy Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support) and Texas’ home visiting programs by 10 percent;
  11. Expand eligibility to include families determined by CPS’s structured decision-making tool to be high-risk to and be served through voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services and also allowing families meeting the original program eligibility to be served when the child is under five rather than under two years of age through Project HIP.

Crimmins added in his email to Breitbart Texas that the agency “will continue to share information and answer questions about the tremendous value of prevention programs” as this legislative session progresses.

“If we invest in these programs properly then all of these problems with too high of case load at CPS will change,” Nichols was reported by KXAN to say. “If there are fewer kids going into CPS then those problems come down and less money needs to be spent.”

Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.

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