7 Million Reasons for Child Welfare Reform - Texas CASA’s 2015 Legislative Successes

Aug 14 2015

Op-Ed by Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA CEO

With more than 7 million children, Texas has the second-largest child population in the nation – one that is, by itself, larger than the total populations of 37 individual states. This creates enormous challenges for Texas, including an extra responsibility to provide for and protect children and youth who, through no fault of their own, end up in the state’s custody due to abuse or neglect.

While the child protection system in Texas has sometimes struggled to truly protect these children, Texas CASA and other child welfare advocacy groups have been working for the past several years with state leaders and the Texas Legislature to improve the system. To prepare for the 84th Legislative Session, the Texas CASA Public Policy team worked hard over the past two years and developed an ambitious agenda emphasizing positive change to the child protection system, with key initiatives in the areas of funding, education and “normalcy.” 

I am happy to report that we made major advances in policy and funding that should positively affect children and youth in the system. These advances could not have been accomplished without the leadership of Governor Greg Abbott, who made child protection and the safety of children involved with Child Protective Services (CPS) a priority. Additionally, support from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus helped create positive systemic change and increase state funding across the system.

Thank you, state leaders, for your desire to improve the child protection system. Our sincere appreciation also goes out to our partners, including Texans Care for Children, TexProtects, One Voice Texas, Upbring and NASW Texas, who worked on child welfare policy alongside us. Together, we supported key legislation, including:

  • SB 1407, the “Normalcy” bill, authored by Senator Charles Schwertner and Representative Dawnna Dukes, which will increase foster children's ability to participate in “normal” age-appropriate childhood activities by shifting decision-making rights from state caseworkers to foster parents or other caregivers and protecting them from liability.
  • SB 830, authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst and Representative Harold Dutton Jr., which will reform the DFPS Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) and create a new ombudsman position in the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) specifically for foster children and youth to report concerns about placements and rights violations. The bill will also put confidentiality and retaliation protections in place.
  • HB 3748, by Representative Marsha Farney and Senator Royce West, which will build on previous legislation to provide a variety of supports and staff to assist current and former foster youth throughout their educational career, including college and other postsecondary education. 

The legislature also significantly increased funding to DFPS through the appropriations process. In total, DFPS will receive almost $3.5 billion over the next two-year budget period, helping  the Department to lower caseloads, improve technology and allow caseworkers to spend more time with children and families.

Texas CASA is extremely grateful to the legislature for increasing state funding for our work. With the leadership of Senator  Jane Nelson and Representative John Otto, HB 1, the appropriations bill, will increase base funding for CASA programs from the current level of approximately $10.5 million annually to $13 million for both years of the Fiscal Year 2016-17 biennium.

Because of the Texas Legislature’s ongoing support and increased funding, the CASA network in Texas has become the largest in the country in terms of children served and volunteers. Last year, 8,066 CASA volunteers in 207 of the 254 Texas counties spoke up for the best interest of 24,742 children in the child protection system.

The laws passed this session keep us moving toward our goal of having a CASA volunteer for every child who needs one, and we will continue to build upon that momentum to protect our most vulnerable children and strengthen the child protection system.

DFPS and Commissioner John Specia are committed to CPS Transformation, which will help address the challenges and problems in the Texas child protection system. However, systemic change depends on the active engagement and support of all the stakeholders in the child welfare community. We must move forward together.

State leaders are not the only ones responsible when it comes to helping victims of child abuse and neglect – we can all help children have the opportunity to grow up in safe, loving and permanent homes. You can make a commitment to be a part of the change. Consider volunteering for an organization such as CASA to help make a difference for children and youth in the foster care system.

About Texas CASA

Vicki Spriggs is CEO of Texas CASA, the statewide organization that provides funding, training and technical assistance to the staff, board and volunteers of the 71 local CASA programs that serve abused and neglected children in the foster care system. Last year, 8,066 well-trained volunteers served 24,742 children in 207 of the 254 Texas counties.