Some Texas lawmakers say foster care reforms are not happening fast enough

Some children in the Texas foster care program had to sleep in state offices.

On Tuesday, an update on legislation preventing that practice was provided by Jamie Masters. She is the new Commissioner for the Department of Family and Protective services.

"I took that to heart and can tell you there are no children in DFPS Offices," said Masters.

Members of a special Senate Committee on Child Protective Services wanted to know more about the reforms made during previous legislative sessions. 

The state foster care program is shifting from a large Austin-based bureaucracy to what’s called Community Based Care. The idea is to give local communities more say and more ownership in foster care. But the transition is far from over.

"If it’s not implemented, what are the consequences, well the consequence for the child is pretty obvious. They might die," said Committee Chairperson Senator Lois W. Kolkhorst (R) Brenham.

Some deaths, according to State Senator Jose Menendez (D) San Antonio, may have been prevented with a simple medical check up.

"Since 2020, 100 children have died in the state's welfare system and most have been attributed to ‘pre-existing medical conditions.’ We need to make sure things came be caught quickly if they are coming into our care it is our obligation to know what their health baseline is as we receive the children and for what do they need for their own welfare," said Menendez.

To address that health care lapse, every child in foster care is to have a medical screening within three days of entering the program. There is also a 24-hour rule requiring the notification of any doctor who treats a foster child when a relocation happens.

"So we've passed great Bills but are they being implemented, what’s your answer to that," asked Kolkhorst.

The Associate Commissioner for CPS, Deneen Dryden, indicated the problem with complying with the notification rule is in the field and not the main office.

"It is still up to the caseworker to do their part," said Dryden.

Addressing that people problem, the committee was told, will require a technology fix.

"So a caseworker can’t just go into our current Class & Impact System and just say the child is here. They have a whole dissertation worth of information that they have to enter in with that, and when they are going form visits to visit and they are in their car sometimes they are in places with no access to internet, and just the struggles that come with just being able to do that, in a timely manner is something we are trying to address, with our current IT system," said Masters.

Committee members are also worried not enough is being done to help foster kids with mental and emotional problems. 

State Senator Charles Perry became frustrated when it sounded as if Masters was downplaying the number of foster kids with emotional problems. Perry reminded the agency managers that issues involving those children are a big part of the federal lawsuit filed against Texas. 

Lawmakers said they are growing tired of allocating money without seeing real reform happen and it’s unacceptable that the for some children the foster care program is only a pipeline to prison.