The new chief of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services made his first appearance in front of lawmakers yesterday to talk about challenges facing the state’s foster care system – A system deemed “broken” by a federal judge last year. Hank Whitman told lawmakers he sees an agency desperate to do great work and laid out a list of things he wants to do fix the system.
Bob Garrett, a Austin-based reporter for the Dallas Morning News, says Whitman brought in 20 crime analysts, in part because of his law enforcement background. Garrett says Whitman touted the new positions as a way to empower case workers to know who may be in a home they visit.
“He’s not empowered politically to offer big pay raises yet,” Garrett says, “but he’s hitting the case workers in another part of their solar plexus… security, or their insecurity. They have a tough job and they don’t carry weapons.”
We’re in the era of the Tea Party, Garrett says, and it’s not clear whether, during the next legislative session, conservative Republican members of the state’s leadership are willing to spend significant amounts of the state’s money to fix CPS.
“These are, after all, kids, in large part, from families that are probably so dyfunctional they don’t vote,” he says. “So there’s not a lot of political payoff for pushing scarce dollars towards CPS.”
Garrett says Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t committed additional funding to the agency and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggests faith-based communities should help fill the gap. A federal bill, which Garrett says is driven by efforts to combat the country’s opioid epidemic and get help for families with addicted members, may divert dollars to help the foster care system in general.
“The problem is, we’re in a crisis in Texas,” he says. “We don’t have enough beds, particularly for the most difficult, complex and unwanted children. This would really mess us up in the next few years, people say. Others say, the prevention dollars… would be a great use of those federal dollars.”
There’s no easy solution, Garrett says. “We have the worst of both worlds, in a sense,” he says. “We have a privatized system where contractors can reject a kid and we have a state that doesn’t really regulate those contractors. It’s dependent on them because it has no place to put kids.”
Post by Hannah McBride.