More children in Texas are residing in unregulated foster homes.
In June 2021, the number of Texas foster children placed in unlicensed facilities, such as hotels, churches, and workplaces followed a year-long increasing trend. In 2021, the monthly average number of children in foster care in Texas was more than 15,000.
Increased scrutiny of the system in the midst of a decade-long federal litigation and a lack of funds for higher provider fees have contributed to the closure of shelters and placement facilities, resulting in an increase in placement shortages. Advocates and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services staff assert that the state’s payments to private providers under the privatized system may not be sufficient to cover the expenses of their services. This year, the state lost at least one thousand beds for children, the majority of which came from institutions serving several children rather than individual foster homes.
In a May letter to Texas lawmakers, DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters wrote, “Our current situation is worsening by the day for our children and front-line caseworkers.” “Our lack of capacity undoubtedly increased significantly with COVID-19, but that is no longer the primary issue. The federal foster care lawsuit and insufficient [provider payment] rates are now having a significant impact.”
Each month this year, the problem has exacerbated, with providers withdrawing or refusing to take placements. Technically, it is unlawful for children to spend the night in unlicensed facilities, but children are staying in such locations due to rising demand.
The harm to foster children extends beyond hunger and isolation. These temporary placements have included physical and sexual abuse of foster children. Children have vanished while in the care of the state, and some have been groomed for sexual exploitation. CPS employees, who are trained for case administration but not therapeutic treatment, are constrained in their ability to respond.
Judge Aurora Martinez Jones, who oversees child welfare cases in the 126th District Court of Travis County, stated, “We’re talking about traumatized children who have experienced abuse and neglect and are now being placed in makeshift residential treatment centers or makeshift group homes supervised by CPS workers.” “The [CPS employees] are not trained as caregivers… for the care of abused, neglected, and traumatized children. It does not benefit the children. It does not benefit the employees.”
Despite the urgings of activists and DFPS officials for an increase in payments to providers, the Texas Legislature did not raise rates during its regular session this year. Governor Greg Abbott included the foster care problem in the call for the special session, but its progress has been halted since House Democrats departed the state to prevent the passage of voting restriction laws.
It appears that House Item 261 is the sole bill introduced during the special session that addresses foster care financing. The law asks for greater financing for foster families caring for children younger than 16 and for families with incomes below the poverty line, but it does not address the crucial need for therapeutic care facilities. Since it was introduced on Tuesday, when Democrats violated quorum, lawmakers have taken no action on the bill.
According to state records, 415 children in Texas spent at least two consecutive nights in unauthorized settings, such as hotels, churches, and businesses, since no adequate beds were available. This is the greatest amount since the state began keeping count five years ago.
Advocates and system employees assert that the problems plaguing the foster care system, which is presently responsible for more than 15,000 children, vary from patterns of abuse and neglect to capacity and care shortages; this is a complicated problem with no clear answer.
And the children in these unlicensed placements, officially known as “children without placement” or CWOP, are frequently those with the most severe physiological, psychological, and behavioral needs, which should be met by specially trained professionals working in facilities such as therapeutic foster homes and residential treatment centers. In many instances, these are youngsters who could not receive proper care in a conventional foster family.
In 2011, a federal lawsuit was launched against the Texas foster care system. In 2015, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack declared that Texas violated the constitutional right of foster children to be free from the excessive danger of injury, stating that children “frequently leave care more damaged than when they entered.”
Jack has twice placed the state in contempt of court for failing to comply with her directives to reform the system. The court designated two monitors to serve as system watchdogs and probe any areas of deficiency.
Multiple explosive reports revealing appalling circumstances have been revealed by the monitors, and the judge has ordered state officials to address an extensive list of flaws.
One of the directives stipulates that institutions with a high rate of contract and standard breaches over a number of years must be placed on heightened monitoring, which means the state scrutinizes the facility’s activities more carefully and implements an improvement plan. This involves weekly unannounced inspections from authorities and clearance from the CPS associate commissioner prior to placing any children in long-term foster care.
After discovering patterns of abuse, neglect, and other inadequacies, dozens of facilities were placed under this heightened surveillance.
Masters stated in a letter to lawmakers, “While the District Court has indicated that its remedies are intended to improve the care and safety of children, providers have expressed concern about increased surveillance and what that entails.”
Many supporters believe that the closing of these institutions is essential.