Despite a federal court ruling that required Texas to fix its unconstitutionally unsafe foster care system, new reports suggest that more kids are sleeping in state offices or hotels than at any time in recent years.
Now, state lawmakers are, once again, proposing measures designed to add more beds in foster care facilities
Bob Garrett has been writing about the foster care system for The Dallas Morning News, where he’s Austin bureau chief. He told Texas Standard that the system is in worse shape than it was several years ago when legislators began trying to remedy its problems. He says the COVID-19 pandemic is one reason for the backslide; another is the low pay rates for foster care providers.
“Texas has historically paid low rates for foster care providers, so a number of them have shifted to these more lucrative, federal unaccompanied minors-providing contracts,” Garrett said.
Increased monitoring of providers, as mandated by the 2015 federal court ruling, has also led some to leave the system, he says.
Foster care providers are typically nonprofit organizations, though some are for-profit entities. Garrett says some providers were also previously affiliated with church-run orphanages.
“Basically, it’s an ‘If you build it, they will come’ concept where, if you go get a license and say you’re ready to take kids, you get a contract with the state, and you can get the kids and recruit the foster parents or build the treatment facilities for the more troubled kids,” Garrett said.
Garrett says lawmakers have always looked for “silver bullets” they hoped would fix the foster care system. Current proposals include changing which entities are responsible for managing the system.
“They have some bills that would make it harder to remove kids,” he said.
Proponents of that approach say it would make it easier for Child Protective Services, or CPS, to comply with the mandates in the federal ruling under which the foster care system operates.
Garrett says those who advocate for providing more direct funding for foster care haven’t been successful in making that case.
“We’ve just been sort of jury-rigging this system for decades, and providers are not necessarily going to hang around just because they want to help Texas,” he said.