By Vicki Spriggs
Texas is in the midst of a crisis that, if not addressed with the highest urgency, will create lasting damage for generations to come. Children removed from their homes are placed in a structurally unsound system that is meant to protect them, but in reality often subjects them to further trauma, abuse, and neglect.
News articles continue to expose the failings of our state’s child protection system — and the system shows little indication of improvement. From excessive caseworker turnover and management flaws, to a shortage of placements due to increased removals, the system has reached a breaking point that is already resulting in more harm to children and more tragic child fatalities.
In December, a federal judge ruled that the Texas foster care system violates the constitutional rights of many children in its care by failing to protect them from harm. Whether you agree with this ruling or not, the poor conditions described in the opinion are undeniable and heartbreaking.
As if this is not enough, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), which oversees the child protection system, has experienced wholesale turnover among its top leadership. Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) welcomes this new leadership, but we also recognize they face a difficult job as many problems are seemingly intractable.
We understand the issues are not all clear cut, but want to underscore several key issues, urging the new DFPS leadership team and state leaders to concentrate on these areas which have not been successfully addressed through previous reforms:
• Targeted Prevention – We must use data more effectively to predict which families may need help, and provide intervention and services to these children and families.
• Additional Resources – Repairing the system will require additional resources to better enhance recruitment, training, manageable caseloads, and adequate compensation for caseworkers in order to decrease the devastating turnover.
• Trauma-informed Approach – Understanding the needs and challenges of children in the system requires an understanding about how the trauma they have experienced impacts their behaviors and outcomes. We believe, based on years of research, that a system based on trauma-informed care is the best way to improve outcomes for children.
• Increased Capacity – In addition to the well-documented shortage of foster care homes, we face a critical problem of placing many children far from their home communities and schools, away from their families and friends, creating unnecessary trauma for children and decreasing the likelihood of restoring families.
• Equal Accountability – Abuse or neglect allegations in state-licensed foster care homes and facilities receive inferior investigations compared with similar allegations made outside of the system. It is necessary that ALL such allegations should be investigated by well-trained CPS investigators, not regulatory personnel, and paid caregivers should be held to the same standards as biological families.
During any crisis, it is natural to wonder, “What can I possibly do to make a difference?” You can help the vulnerable children caught in the middle of this catastrophe by becoming a CASA volunteer. CASA volunteers get to know a specific child or sibling group in the foster care system and speak up for their best interests in court and other settings, helping move them out of the system and into a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible. Take the first step in becoming a volunteer in your community by going to www.BecomeACASA.org
About Texas CASA
Vicki Spriggs is CEO of Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the statewide organization that advocates for effective public policy for children in the child protection system and provides funding, training, and technical assistance to program staff, board, and volunteers of the 72 local CASA programs that serve abused and neglected children in the foster care system. Last year, 8,476 well-trained volunteers served 25,947 children in 207 of the 254 Texas counties.