Texas seeks expert help to end cycle of foster children sleeping in CPS offices, hotels and churches


AUSTIN – Texas and foster child lawyers turn to experts for advice on how to solve problem of youth sleeping in child welfare offices, hotels and churches , under the supervision of state social workers.

All parties to a decade-old federal lawsuit over the terms of Texas’s long-term foster care system agree that children removed from their biological families due to child abuse should be housed in homes with trained foster parents – and if that is not possible, managed with humanity. collective care settings.

Instead, an increasing number of people are sleeping on cots in state office buildings, in hotel rooms, and on mattresses installed in church meeting rooms because of what the Gov. Greg Abbott, two state agencies and plaintiffs’ attorneys agreed Friday there are “persistent gaps in appropriate services and placements.” in Texas.”

In a court brief on Friday and announcements from both sides on Monday, the parties to the lawsuit said they had agreed to seek a set of non-binding recommendations from three neutral experts on how to alleviate the crisis.

The state was careful to say in the agreement that “the recommendations will not impose any obligations on the defendants.” Yet Texas has pledged to “cooperate in good faith” and heed the recommendations.

The recommendations are expected on December 15. Within 15 days of their receipt, the monitors from U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack will meet with the three experts, state officials, and plaintiffs’ attorneys to discuss the ideas and set a specific time for the Abbott administration to say if he will implement them.

Under the agreement, the complainants and the state will each appoint an expert and then choose a third.

The choice of the plaintiffs is Judith Meltzer, who has worked on overhauling child welfare systems in Tennessee, South Carolina, New Jersey and Washington, DC

Meltzer is executive vice president of the DC-based Center for the Study of Social Policy, a non-partisan group founded by the late MacArthur Fellow Tom Joe, a former Nixon administration official. The center studies federal and state welfare programs, foster families and child poverty. Meltzer has experience in federal welfare programs in Chicago and as an academic researcher on welfare programs.

Defendants from Abbott State, the Department of Family and Protective Services and the Board of Health and Human Services have selected former commission official Ann Elizabeth Stanley as their expert.

Since 2000, Stanley has worked for Casey Family Programs, the largest foster care foundation in the country. Previously, she was director of the children’s office of the Commission de la santé et des services sociaux. In this role, she worked on the roll-out of the children’s health insurance program and coverage of Medicaid managed care for mental illness and addiction. In the 1980s, Stanley practiced as a child and family mental health therapist in Washington State and Travis County.

Throughout the year, as the number of children sleeping in CPS offices increased, the reasons became the subject of heated debate. Leading GOP lawmakers who write child protection policy have blamed a “heightened watch” order Jack issued in an attempt to weed out shoddy providers.

Almost all children placed in Texas are now housed by private entities that contract with the Department of Protective Services. Provider groups, while not always happy with the state’s suddenly tighter regulations, also reported insufficient state reimbursements. For years, some have said they have to tap into endowments to make ends meet – or provide “extras” for the children.

At a status conference in September, Jack bristled with suggestions she had caused the bed shortage by ordering tighter monitoring of paid caregivers.

Governor Greg Abbott distanced himself from a recent claim by two Texas child welfare officials that abused children who are housed in child welfare offices, hotels and churches are exempt from the orders of a federal judge.  Abused and neglected children in state care

Oklahoma, following a similar litigation, has closed 40% of its collective care facilities for having poor health and safety records and has yet to experience a capacity crisis like the one what does Texas know, she noted.

As Family and Welfare Services Commissioner Jaime Masters testified before a House panel nearly two weeks ago, she submitted a written submission that acknowledged Texas’ struggles with children without a placement, or CWOP, as the children sleeping in the offices are called.

“Since September 2020, there has been a marked increase in the number of young people in CWOP,” Masters PowerPoint said. “Contributing factors include the COVID-19 pandemic, the shortage of providers and stricter regulations. “

They tend to be older – 13 to 17 years old – and, in many cases, “have been hospitalized in psychiatry and have a history of running away, self-harm, physical assault / assault, sexual victimization and / or sexual assault ”. said the presentation of the masters.

In September, the number of such children more than quadrupled, from 87 to 362 a year earlier. And the state only counts young people who spend at least two consecutive nights in an office or a makeshift bed in its monthly tally.

Even more troubling, the average length of stay in unlicensed facilities rose to 18 days in September, up 500% from the average of 3.6 days in September 2020.

In June and July, the number of children without placements exceeded 400.

According to Masters’ written testimony, in fiscal year 2020 the state suffered a net loss of 147 beds, and in the fiscal year that ended August 31, an additional 471 beds.

Masters said that since June, the state has developed and introduced additional beds into the system. One of the pressing needs has been that of “reduction establishments”, which take in children discharged from psychiatric hospitals. “As of August 2020, the DFPS had contracts with 11 providers of the Intensive Psychiatric Transition Program (IPTP), but only 3 providers remain,” his PowerPoint said.

On Monday, the spokesperson for the department, Patrick Crimmins, described the groups and entities of suppliers as “extremely useful”.

“We have worked more cooperatively with providers than ever before, in the last few months alone, to get children out of offices and put them in other places,” he said.

Houston attorney Paul Yetter, lead counsel for the plaintiffs at a 2014 trial, said he was not sure what suggestions Meltzer, Stanley and the third expert would make.

“This problem keeps popping up,” he said of the children sleeping in the CPS offices. “Children continue to hurt themselves. And we have to find a new way.

Court-appointed supervisors recently explained how, in unlicensed environments like CPS offices, many children receive incorrect or inappropriate doses of psychotropic drugs, are exposed to sexual abuse or self-harm.

Meanwhile, social workers in the CPS guardianship, whose workload has recently been reduced as a result of the lawsuit, thereby reducing the chronically high turnover rate, bear the brunt of the lack of foster homes or other appropriate treatment facilities.

Workers are required to work overtime, 24 hours a day, to supervise children who do not have appropriate foster care. Depending on the region of the state, work shifts are four hours or eight hours.

In September, the department, the parent agency of the CPS, said in a report that turnover among guardianship workers is on the rise again.

Yetter noted, “This agreement allows [retention of] the best external experts we can find, so they can examine this ongoing problem, consider state structure and resources, and make recommendations on solutions that will work in the real world, both short and long term .

Texas lawmakers have not planned to increase tariffs for the care of foster children across much of the state, disappointing providers who warn of a capacity crisis that is emerging. worsen.

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