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TexProtects: The Texas Association for the Protection of Children

85th Legislature Blog - Continually Updated

For a full list of bills being tracked by TexProtects, please go to our Legislative Action Page.

Weekly Child Protection Legislative Update: April 7, 2017

Here’s your weekly update on child protection issues at the 85th Texas Legislature, looking back at the week of April 3-7.

The House Passes Its Budget

After a 15-hour debate on Thursday (ending at 1:30am Friday morning) the House passed a $218 billion two-year budget for Fiscal Years 2018-19. There are substantial differences from what the Senate passed last week, which will have to be hashed out in a conference committee.

Here's how the House's budget would handle Child Protective Services:

• Funding of $3.5 billion in All Funds, including $2 billion in General Revenue Funds, is provided for all Child Protective Services (CPS) functions at the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). This is an increase of $513.8 million in All Funds and $433.4 million in General Revenue over the previous biennium.

• Funding for CPS caseworkers includes $292.8 million in All Funds to maintain 828.8 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions and salary increases provided in fiscal year 2017 to address critical needs in the CPS program, and $111.1 million in All Funds to support an additional 644.0 caseworker positions in fiscal year 2018 and 733.0 caseworkers in fiscal year 2019. Funding also includes $2.3 million in All Funds for salary increases for certain additional CPS caseworkers. Members passed a floor amendment to increase direct delivery staff by an additional $10.75 million.

• Funding includes an increase of $112.5 million in All Funds and $25.2 million in General Revenue Funds to further support foster care payments, including funding to increase rates for foster care services providers in both the legacy and redesign systems, and to expand Foster Care Redesign to two additional regions by the end of fiscal year 2019. Members passed a floor amendment to increase foster care support services by $21.5 million.

• $57.3 million in All Funds and $5.0 million in General Revenue for the Relative Caregiver Program. This amount includes $32.5 million from the Economic Stabilization Fund to expand Relative Caregiver payments for the 2018–19 biennium, contingent upon enactment of House Bill 4, or similar legislation. (HB 4 creates the tiered system defining eligibility for such payments.)

• Funding includes a total of $139.3 million in All Funds and $108.5 million in General Revenue Funds for the Day Care Purchased Services Program.

• TexProtects is still seeking further expansions of family support home visiting programs, specifically $10 million each for two of the most effective, Nurse-Family Partnership and the Texas Home Visiting Program. We hope to accomplish this in conference committee.

Bills in Committee

As always, TexProtects staff was busy this week meeting with legislators and testifying in committee.

We are extremely pleased with the reception given to our legislation, House Bill 1342, on Tuesday in the House Public Education Committee. If passed into law, this bill - authored by Rep. Tan Parker - would strengthen child abuse anti-victimization training in our public schools to include sexual abuse self-protection training.

Such programs are already required by law, but too many school districts are either not performing this training or applying it incorrectly (as our CEO Madeline McClure testified, most are wrongly interpreting anti-bullying training as anti-victimization training).

HB 1342 clarifies that the programs must specifically be age-appropriate, evidence-based training for children designed to promote self-protection, prevent sexual abuse of children, reduce child pregnancy and reduce child sex trafficking. It also requires districts to provide at least two opportunities for this training per year. The survivors of sexual abuse provided emotional testimony in support of this training.

The hearing received an unusual round of applause from the full Public Education Committee and the entire audience in the hearing room for what we are trying to accomplish. The bill was left pending in committee, but that's common for bills after being initially heard. Committee members seemed very supportive, and we are confident this great piece of legislation will move forward and become law.

Weekly Child Protection Legislative Update: March 31, 2017

The Budget Moves Forward

The big news out of the Legislature this week is the budget, both on the House and Senate sides.

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee approved a proposed Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget that provides badly needed increases in funding for the Child Protective Services and foster care systems: $450 million more than the previous budget, which is a huge win for CPS. However, the $450 million is less than half of what Department of Family and Protective Services officials have said they need to pull those two systems out of their current crisis.

On Tuesday, the full Senate approved that budget without changes and sent it to the House for consideration.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee passed its own version of the budget, with a $430 million increase for CPS and foster care. The full House is expected to take it up on April 7.

As we noted in last week’s roundup, we are pleased that Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) gets a modest increase of $1.4 million in all funds in both the House and Senate base bills. However, we are still strongly advocating that the final budget this Legislature produces should increase the state’s share of funding in evidence-based NFP and the Texas Home Visiting Program (THVP) by $20 million ($10 million for each) to serve an additional 2,500 highest-need families across the state. Neither budget currently contains this, but TexProtects will continue pushing for it all the way to the end of session.

We are very excited that the House expands the Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) program by $3.6 million.

Please continue reaching out to your state senators and representatives and tell them that growing family support home visiting programs like NFP, THVP, and HOPES are necessary to actually get ahead of our state’s child maltreatment problems! The best fix for CPS is to keep children from needing CPS!

Bills in Committee

Our TexProtects legislative staff was busy buzzing about the Capitol this week, testifying or registering support for these bills:

HB 2124: Requires DFPS to identify whether the subject of an abuse or neglect investigation is a member of the U.S. military (or the spouse of a service member), and if so, to notify the U.S. Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program of the investigation.

HB 2335: Requires CPS caseworkers who interact with children on a daily basis to receive training in trauma-informed care. Also requires this of owners, operators or employees of day-care centers, group day-care homes, registered family homes, general residential operations, foster group homes and agency foster group homes.

HB 1522: Establishes a task force on parent engagement and education programs, including top officials at DFPS, Texas Workforce Commission, Texas Education Agency, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Juvenile Justice Department, a representative of a county juvenile board or juvenile probation department, a faith-based organization, and someone who has personally experienced the challenges addressed by such programs.

HB 1410: Adds foster parents to the list of parties eligible to intervene in certain pending lawsuits affecting the parent-child relationship.

SB 329: Establishes a simpler mechanism by which adult adoptees may access their original birth certificate, while also respecting birth parents’ wishes on how to be contacted, if at all.

SB 818: Requires child-care facilities to adopt minimum standards for nutrition and fitness, in the hope of establishing healthy habits for children early in life.

Weekly Child Protection Legislative Update: March 27, 2017

Here's your weekly update for child protection bills at the 85th Texas Legislature, looking back at the week of March 20-24.

Budget: Well Short of What's Needed

Our top priority this session is to ensure the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has the resources it needs to stop lurching from crisis to crisis and to expand the prevention programs necessary to actually get ahead of the curve on abuse and neglect. TexProtects particularly would like to see an expansion of Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and the Texas Home Visiting Program (THVP) ($10 million additional for each, for a total of $20 million). NFP has proven outcomes to actually save State Medicaid expenses.

The Senate Finance Committee passed its budget bill last week; it should be taken up by the full Senate on Tuesday. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote out its budget decisions this week. It is anticipated to be debated by the House on April 7.

Here's where our funding requests for DFPS stand: Of the department's requested $1 billion in "exceptional items" (investments above its base budget), both chambers penciled in only about a quarter of that - $276 million by the House, and $290 million by the Senate.

As for our desired expansions: DFPS requested an $800,000 exceptional item increase for THVP and the House provided it, but this is well short of what TexProtects recommends. The Senate budget proposal does not fund that request.

On the positive side: When considering all funds in the base budget (including federal dollars) NFP does get an increase of almost $1.4 million. Also, we are thrilled on the House side to see a $3.6 million expansion for Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support).

Thank you for participation in our previous action alerts on these budget items. You can still influence the budget decions! It is critically important that you reach out to your state senators and representatives and make it clear that growing family support home visiting programs (and thus preventing child abuse and neglect) matters to you and must be funded.

Bills in Committee

Several bills we support were heard in committee last week. They were all left pending, meaning no vote was taken. It is possible they could be voted on later.

Our top policy proposal this session, Rep. Cindy Burkett's House Bill 1549, the "Child Protection Act," was heard Monday with a long list of witnesses testifying in support. It's a wide-ranging bill making numerous changes to Texas' child protection system, including strengthening prevention and early intervention, improving CPS through workforce retention and staffing strategies, implementing an evidence-based home visiting model that promotes family preservation, enhances data collection to prevent child abuse and related fatalities, and codifies a prevention advisory board, among many other provisions.

Also:

  • HB 7 by Rep. Gene Wu - makes numerous changes to laws regarding child protective services lawsuits by DFPS, including requiring courts to determine whether DFPS attempted and could have made a kinship placement; requires DFPS to develop uniform statewide service plans and requires the court to incorporate those plans into its orders; and makes voluntary surrender of a child inadmissable as evidence of abuse or neglect, among other provisions.
  • HB 39 by Wu - provides career development and education support for foster youth, sets time frames for medical and psychological assessments of foster children, improvements in caseworker safety and secondary traumatic stress supports, establishes a caseload management system and best practices guide for caseworkers.
  • SB 203 by Sen. Royce West - eliminates the deadline for DFPS to enter into permanency care assistance agreements. The Permanency Care Assistance (PCA) program, which provides financial assistance to kinship placements, was created in 2009. Current law prohibits DFPS from entering into PCA agreements after August 2017; SB 203 repeals that law.
  • SB 948 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst - the previous legislature in 2015 passed a law allowing the sibling of a child separated by DFPS to file suit requesting access to that sibling. SB 948 ensures that potential adoptive parents are notified and informed of this right.
  • HB 932 by Rep. Jarvis Johnson - requires that the state must determine whether juvenile criminal offenders have ever been in the foster care system, and requires a biannual report tracking such information.
  • HB 1204 by Rep. James White - requires "community resource coordination groups" to collaborate with prosecuting attorneys to determine whether a juvenile criminal offender and the child's family should be directed toward community services in lieu of adjudication.

Weekly Child Protection Legislative Update: March 17, 2017

Now that the 85th Texas Legislature is moving at full speed, TexProtects will begin providing regular end-of-week updates on what transpired on budget items and bills related to child protection. Here's a look back at the week of March 13-17.

The main action this week was on the budget - major (albeit not final) decisions were made in the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. On the positive side, much of our top CPS workforce, kinship care and foster care items have been funded.

Yet, the Legislature is being shortsighted in focusing on the immediate-term emergency items and not looking contextually at the child maltreatment crisis. We continue to advocate for funding evidence-based prevention programs that ultimately save not only precious children's lives and families, but taxpayer dollars as well.

Nurse-Family Partnership Medicaid Rider

First, the good news: The House committee approved a rider that essentially will allow Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) to be a service within the state's Medicaid program to serve families and their children throughout the state. NFP is one of the best evidence-based family support home visiting programs for which we advocate. This rider allows us to leverage state dollars for NFP with the match rate of 56% federal to 44% state.

This is incredibly positive - not only will we be able to serve additional families with additional federal dollars, but the state's NFP services result in reductions to Medicaid costs.

Home Visiting Funding Expansion

Unfortunately, we had less success in securing expanded funding for NFP and the Texas Home Visiting Program (THVP), both programs that TexProtects helped bring to Texas.

It is essential that these programs grow - currently, they only reach a fraction of eligible families, and each at-risk family that we don't reach is a missed opportunity at saving lives and reducing costs to our health, legal and education systems. We seek an extra $20 million for NFP and THVP ($10 million for each). The request was not included in Senate Finance's version of the budget, and in the House, it was moved to Article XI, a "wish list" section of the budget that doesn't give home visiting the priority it deserves.

The budget process is not over, however, and TexProtects will continue fighting to get home visiting expansion secured for the Fiscal Years 2018-19, on the floors of each chamber and in conference committee, if necessary.

Other Important Budget Items

  • CPS Workforce: Both budgets provide for $12,000 pay raises for support positions.
  • Kinship Caregiver assistance: The House provides $32 million; the Senate does not fund it.
  • Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support): We seek a $12 million expansion of this prevention program that we strongly support. The House budgeted $3.6 million, while the Senate did not fund it.

Despite what appear to be setbacks with the Senate budget, we are still very hopeful. The Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, a longtime supporter and close ally of TexProtects, told the Dallas Morning News that the budget process is "not through yet" and that "This Finance Committee's No. 1 commitment was to Child Protective services." We recommend reading the article by clicking here.

Posted on March 28, 2017.
 

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Our mission is to reduce and prevent child abuse and neglect through research, advocacy and education. We effect change by organizing and educating our members to advocate for increased investments in evidence-based child abuse prevention programs, CPS reforms, and treatment programs to heal abuse victims. Learn more about the work we do. You can help protect Texas children from abuse & neglect. Find out how you can help.

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