Texas House Focuses On Child Welfare

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelMay 9, 2017 11:28 am

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

A bill aimed at improving the state foster care system got initial approval in the Texas House on Monday.

House Bill 7 would change standards for when the Department of Family and Protective Services removes a child from their home during investigations into abuse and neglect.

For example – kids could be removed over allegations of violence.

But under the new bill, a child couldn’t be removed if a parent just has a low-income or has been charged with a nonviolent misdemeanor.

Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, is the bill’s author. He says his team traveled the country talking to experts, ranging from judges to attorneys and advocates to caseworkers.

“What remains in this bill is what we believe will help the system respond better to child abuse and neglect,” he told the House yesterday. “This is what we think will do a better job in preserving families. This is what we think will do a better job in having children returned to their families if at all possible.”

The bill will have one more reading on the House floor before heading to the Senate. That reading is scheduled for today.

Another bill the Texas Legislature is considering to reform the state’s child welfare system is House Bill 3859 – which is provoking more controversial reactions.

The bill says it aims to ensure the “protection of the rights of conscience for child welfare providers.”

What it would do is allow private adoption and foster care agencies – including those that receive state money – to turn away potential parents based on religious beliefs.

Opponents argue the bill would let faith-based organizations refuse to place children with same-sex couples or foster families of other faiths.

One of the bill’s opponents is the Reverend David Wynn of Agape Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Worth.

On a conference call yesterday, Rev. Wynn asked “what Jesus would do? Would he deny a home to a homeless child because the parents in that home were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender? Basically he didn’t care about our orientations or labels. Basically he said, take care of each other.”

The bill’s author, Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, says the bill is not intended to discriminate, but to support broadening the network of child welfare providers.

Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, agrees with Frank.

She told the local NBC station in Austin it’s important to be able to place Catholic foster care children into Catholic homes.

The “best interest of the child is to be place in a home that most closely mirrors their cultural religious identity,” Allmon said. “That’s clear – and this bill makes sure there is the right amount of homes for the diversity of Texas.”

The Texas House is expected to debate the bill this week.

And one last bit of news from the Texas House: On Monday, state representatives also gave initial approval to a bill that would crack down on the growing number of sexual relationships between teachers and students in Texas.

Under Senate Bill 7, superintendents would be required to report these inappropriate relationships.

If they intentionally don’t report them – they could face a state jail felony or a fine of up to $10,000.