83rd Texas Legislature shows support for foster children

Jun 25 2013

By Laura D. Wolf

With the close of the 83rd regular session of the Texas Legislature, CASA, CPS and others are analyzing which bills became law and what their impact will be on child welfare in Texas in the future. I hope at least some of you remember the old “Schoolhouse Rock” vignette on how a bill becomes a law ----- “I’m just a bill, sitting here on capitol hill……” The process laid out in that little cartoon is fundamentally accurate, but what the cartoon couldn’t adequately get across is how frenetic and frantic the final weeks and days of a legislative session can be here in Austin. Constitutionally, the Legislature only meets for 140 days in odd-numbered years, unless the Governor calls for a special session. As those 140 days wind down, the pace of the process – and the challenge in keeping up with everything – ramps up.  So, it will still take some time to fully understand the impacts of this legislative session on the work that CASA does and even longer to implement some of the initiatives adopted by the Legislature. A few things we do know:

  • The Legislature had more money to appropriate than two years ago and was able to restore some very important funding to Child Protective Services (CPS), as well as to increase appropriations for some particular initiatives. This bodes well for CPS, especially as they work to retain staff.
  • The Legislature also increased funding for CASA programs around the State in order to encourage growth in the number of children in the system statewide who have trained CASA volunteers speaking up for their best interests.
  • The Legislature was extremely interested in the issue of psychotropic medications prescribed to children in foster care and passed legislation designed to institute greater oversight and information-sharing regarding the use of psychotropic medications to treat foster youth.
  • The Legislature was interested in innovation to improve effectiveness and efficiency: one new law will allow CASA to have access to CPS’s electronic database for better access to information (this will take time to implement and won’t be an immediate change); another new law directs CPS to develop and offer alternative responses to families who are at a low level of safety risk but a high level of need, so that CPS can offer them services without stepping in to remove their children. This initiative will be rolled out in one or more of the CPS regions around as a pilot project before taking effect statewide.

Our state association, Texas CASA, does a good job of advocating at the Legislature on behalf of CASA programs and the children we serve. They’ve prepared a very good summary of interesting legislation. We thank them for their advocacy. We also thank the members of the Legislature who represent Travis County --- their doors are always open, their staff are always responsive and helpful, they care about the children we serve.

If you want to learn more about the Legislature, find contact information for your State Senator or Representative, or take a look at the text and status of any bill, Texas Legislature Online is a very good resource, www.capitol.state.tx.us