Texas’ 84th Interim Session: Child Protection


While interim charges are sent out near the end of ODD numbered years, the hearings generally don’t start until about April of EVEN numbered years.

Testifying at Interim hearings is slightly different than regular legislative hearings. During the regular session you are generally speaking on specific bills, but in the interim you are speaking on the charges that are set before the committee. Because the members had to come out of their districts to attend they tend to be less tolerant of testimony not germane to the charges. Please keep this in mind while planning your testimony.

On the subject of Child Protection, Texas has two House committees and one Senate that generally hear related testimony:

House Human Services

House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues

Senate Health and Human Services

Charges

Both House Committees share a joint charge relating to Human Trafficking.

Study and evaluate the practice of youth being recruited into human trafficking. Specifically, evaluate the scope of the pipeline of potential victims from foster care, including methods and means used to lure youth into trafficking. Evaluate the types of services that are available to support children and youth in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) who are victims of human trafficking. Make necessary recommendations to assist DFPS in identifying, recovering, serving, or caring for children and youth who are victims of human trafficking prior to placement in foster care.

The House Human Services has a separate charge relating to:

Examine the Department of Family and Protective Services’ policies and procedures, including prevention measures and resources, dedicated to eliminating child abuse and fatalities within the foster care system; explore ideas and strategies to increase the number of foster families and improve the delivery of services to children with high needs; review adoption policies, including disruptions, and make recommendations for possible improvements. Also, monitor and assess the continuation of foster care redesign.

Juvenile Justice and Family Issues has the following separate charges:

  • Examine data collection and sharing practices between the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), and local juvenile probation departments regarding youth involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Determine any new data that should be collected and make recommendations to improve data-sharing between DFPS, TJJD and local juvenile probation departments that will improve delivery of services and outcomes.
  • Examine evidence-based practices around early education and parenting support and education programs. Assess the current capacity of community-based parent support programs, including funding sources, curricula, effectiveness, systems of delivery and cost effectiveness. Monitor the implementation of HB 2630 (84R) and assess the availability of parenting support and education programs and resources around the state.
  • Monitor juvenile justice regionalization planning and implementation of SB 1630 (84R). Identify appropriate outcome measures to evaluate success of keeping more youth closer to home. Make recommendations to increase community and regional options and strengthen community services to reduce commitments to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
  • Review juvenile justice penalties and sanctions determined by or disallowed by age of the juvenile. Identify best practices in other states relating to juvenile age. Determine if alternatives or changes, based on age or other factors, are required to address penalties and sanctions in the juvenile age population.
  • Examine the Texas Family Code’s treatment of grandparents in the parent-child relationship, including Chapters 32, 34, 153, 161, and 162 and suggest any changes that may be useful to address the growing population of grandparents and the best interests of Texas children and families.

Key issues relating to the Protection of Children in the Senate HHS Committee are:

  • Part I: Reducing Recurrence of Child Abuse and Neglect: Examine the current process that Child Protective Services uses to track recurrence of child abuse and neglect, and make recommendations to improve data tracking and the use of that data to assist in preventing recurrence. The study should examine the differences in recurrence among families who received services, families who received no services and had their cases closed, and families who had their children removed from the home.
  • Part II: Addressing High-Acuity Needs of Foster Care Children: Study the increase in higher acuity children with trauma and mental illness in the state foster care system, and recommend ways to ensure children have timely access to appropriate treatment and placement options.
  • Part III: Strengthening Adoptions: Examine the frequency, causes, and effects of disrupted foster care adoptions and make recommendations to improve the long-term success of adoptive placements. Study and make recommendations on ways to ensure a smooth transition for foster care children who are exiting the system.

Upcoming hearings:

On April 20, 2016 there will be two hearings.

There is an organizational hearing of the House Juvenile Justice and Family issues committee at 10 am in E2.016 No public testimony planned.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee meets in the Senate Chamber at 9am. Public testimony limited to 3 minutes.

It appears that the proposed agenda is moving Part I to the end. It is unknown rather or not they will address the charges separately or as one.

Our issues

While it remains important to remain germane, we also must keep in mind what we want to accomplish in 2017.

General Information

We want to make sure that the legislature knows that we know about Texas losing the Federal Class Action where DFPS violated the Constitutional rights of 12,000 foster children.

For close to 3 decades Texas’ Child Protection System has been known for failing to follow its own policies.

Only 77 days before President Clinton signed the ASFA Texas had passed some of the most comprehensive Family Preservation legislation ever in SB359 (75R). In 2005, SB6 (79R) stripped most of it from statute. Then finished it off with SB206 (84R) last session.

The Flexible Response System for Service Delivery as created in 1997 as a part of SB359 (75R) but was never implemented.

The two part system presented in Texas Administrative Code 40 TAC §700.511 which is used for labeling allegations and final Overall Disposition can be confusing to improperly trained employees. Often a RTB finding for Disposition is applied to an Allegation that was never proven.

An Ombudsman review does not have to take place once a Judge rules on a worker’s allegations. Texas Administrative Code 40 TAC §702.841

While SB830 (84R) became effective on September 1, 2015 the position of Ombudsman for Foster Care has yet to be filled.

We want it known that “We the People of Texas” are no longer going to tolerate it.

Transparency

Texas’ “Open Records Act of 1973” set up the standard that information generated for and by government entities is owned by the people of the state.

Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.

  1. On February 14, 2015 DFPS stripped more than 450 pages containing close to 670 topics from the CPS handbook. Officials claim they were policy changes. Most familiar with the data knows that it was procedures which included full descriptions of the various stages of service such as FBSS, Substitute care (CVS) and Reunification (FRE). We parents need to be able to determine what is and is not a DFPS employee’s job without having to file a “Freedom of Information Request.”
  2. The new “Resource Guides” are cumbersome and a pain to use. Their PDF format does not expose content to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It is not understood why they failed to use the same dynamic format used by the Supreme Court Children’s Commission when they created the “Child Protective Services Parent Resource Guide” which is fully SEO compliant. DFPS also fails to notify anyone of updates on these new guides either.
  3. Same holds true for the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) Human Resources handbook that is often referenced from the DFPS handbooks. Texas parents have the right know the job function of every state employee that comes in contact with their children.

Accountability

One of the items that was part of SB-359 included raising the bar on DFPS employees’ Immunity. By setting a higher standard than Federal “Good Faith” and creating “preexisting law” Texas defined a way to hold DFPS employees accountable. Problem is the law is not being enforced. We are seeing caseworkers regularly violating not only Constitutional Rights but both state and Federal laws without punishment.

Sec. 40.061. IMMUNITY. (a) A department employee, a member of a multidisciplinary team established under Section 40.0524, or an authorized department volunteer who performs a departmental duty or responsibility is immune from civil or criminal liability for any act or omission that relates to the duty or responsibility if the person acted in good faith and within the scope of the person’s authority.

(b) In this section, “volunteer” means a person who:

(1) renders services for or on behalf of the department under the supervision of a department employee; and

(2) does not receive compensation that exceeds the authorized expenses the person incurs in rendering those services.

(c) This section does not provide immunity to a department employee who, in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship in which child abuse is alleged or that arises out of a child abuse investigation, in a criminal prosecution for an offense in which child abuse is an element, or in the preparation of the suit or prosecution:

(1) commits or attempts to commit perjury;

(2) fabricates or attempts to fabricate evidence;

(3) knowingly conceals or intentionally withholds information that would establish that a person alleged to have committed child abuse did not commit child abuse; or

(4) violates state or federal law in the investigation or prosecution of the suit.

We need to strengthen this statute.

About Jim Black

Jim Black is the founder of Angel Eyes over Texas (AEovrT). Jim is a former Manufacturing Engineer turned CPS Watchdog. Jim spent more than 32 years studying manufacturing companies, their procedures and the proper application of their resources with heavy emphasis on Quality Control, Automated Systems and Resource Management. Now those same skills are applied toward analyzing Texas DFPS and it's functions; breaking down the mechanics of how the agency fails to follow the policies, statutes and rules set forth by the State of Texas. Jim tracks all changes to the Texas CPS Handbook on www.aeovrt.org. Jim often consults with CPS defense attorneys on handbook research.
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