.jpg photo of Texas State Representitive-elect
Republican State Rep.-elect Stan Lambert

Abilene, Taylor County state reps vow to
address CPS

Abilene, TX  –  Incoming state representatives for Abilene and Taylor County intend to tackle the myriad problems facing Child Protective Services when they take office in January, acknowledging that money is not a panacea.

The Legislative Budget Board’s recent authorization of $150 million in funding for the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees CPS, will help curb caseworker turnover by allowing the agency to hire more than 800 caseworkers and pay them more, leading to lighter caseloads for workers and more children getting the help they need, said DFPS Commissioner Henry “Hank” Whitman in an email.

Whitman declined in-person or telephone interviews with the Reporter-News.

But money alone will not “fix” the current system in place to protect the state’s most vulnerable children, said Republican state Rep.-elect Stan Lambert in an email, though he applauded the emergency funding.  Lambert will represent Taylor, Nolan and Jones counties in the Texas House come January.

“It will take all parties coming together in the weeks and months ahead,” Lambert said.  “This recently approved funding will help alleviate some of the backlog and will create more opportunities for cases of child neglect and abuse to move faster and be resolved more expediently.”

Part of that emergency funding request will go toward hiring 105 new foster care caseworkers, some of whom will be assigned to Abilene to meet the high number of children in foster care here, Whitman said.

Foster children have been sleeping in CPS offices, motels and emergency shelters because of a lack of suitable placements for them, he said.  Currently, no children are sleeping in any Region 2 — which encompasses Abilene and Wichita Falls — offices.

“That is just not right,” Whitman said.  “Too many good caseworkers are leaving CPS, and that puts more pressure on the ones left behind.  It also increases pressure on the new hires coming in to perform at a high level immediately, and in many situations that is just not going to happen.”

State Sen.-elect Dawn Buckingham, a Republican elected in November to represent a region that stretches from Abilene to Austin, said she’s familiar with the problems at CPS from her time-serving on the state panel that evaluated its parent agency, DFPS.

“We knew (CPS) was a mess,” said Buckingham, who takes office when the Legislature convenes Jan. 10, pointing out that the Texas Sunset Commission identified gaps in accountability and high staff turnover.

Buckingham said money alone will not fix the agency, but she did agree that a salary increase likely was needed to address turnover and other issues.

“People are applying for those jobs,” she said.  “Unfortunately, they are not staying very long.”

Buckingham said she looks forward to working with Senate leaders and stakeholders as they craft legislation to address the CPS crisis.

The crisis may not be as dire in Region 2 as it is in other parts of the state.

Although the region has had the highest reporting and confirmed victims of abuse rate per 1,000 in the state for the past five years, investigators make face-to-face contact with children at a high rate, Whitman said.

As of Nov. 28, 98 percent of children identified by CPS as at risk for abuse or neglect had been seen by a caseworker, he said.

Additionally, about 80 percent of regional investigations are completed and closed within 60 days.

“Child safety specialists review certain higher-risk investigations as secondary approvers, and since March 2016, Region 2 has had fewer investigations returned by a CSS as compared to the state overall,” Whitman said.  “This indicates thoroughness and effectiveness in Region 2’s investigations.”

Whitman also applauded the region’s close collaboration with the faith-based community — 101 churches and nine ministries are registered for the CarePortal, a website that connects children in need with a church.  Participating churches in Region 2 include Beltway Baptist Church in Abilene and First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls.

But Whitman acknowledged that caseworkers need more investigative training to do their jobs and CPS needs more special investigators to help them, which is part of the emergency funding request.  He said his law enforcement background informed that decision because he is familiar with the “impact crime has on families, particularly children.”

Lambert said that crime is one of the “central causes” of child abuse and neglect that needs to be discussed more, in addition to substance abuse and mental health issues.

“As to future action to be considered, I would support funding to deal with the congestion these types of cases are creating in our family law courts,” he said.  “Increased funding could expedite and shorten the time involved to identify foster care families and allow adoptions to occur.”

Only time will tell if the additional funding approved by the LBB will help or whether the incoming Legislature will take further steps to address the problems facing CPS.


.jpg photo of Foster Care Design Chairman in west Texas
Cyndi Reed is the Foster Care Redesign program administrator for CPS Region 2.

Foster Care Redesign program comes to Abilene, the area

Abilene, TX  –  Major changes to the foster care system in the Abilene-Wichita Falls region are expected to begin in January, when the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services plans to award the contract for its Foster Care Redesign program.

Region 2, which encompasses 30 counties from Brown to Taylor to Wichita County, will be the second area of the state to implement the new method of providing foster care services.

Under the new model, the state contracts with a single provider to serve foster children in geographic areas that have at least 500 new entries into foster care a year, said Cyndi Reed, Foster Care Redesign program administrator for Region 2.  Those areas may include an entire region — there are 11 in the state — or a portion of a region, called a “catchment area.”

“It changes the way we go about procuring for services,” Reed said. “Under the previous model, CPS (Child Protective Services) had what’s called an open enrollment process, where basically we would post a need out and anybody who was able to meet that need could respond.”

Under the old system, CPS contracted with multiple organizations across the state to meet the needs of foster children.  Region 2 has 14 foster care providers, Reed said.

“In the current system, when you open your doors — because there’s such a capacity crisis — you’re just as apt to have kids in your facility in Iraan, Texas, from Lubbock or Longview or Houston, San Antonio or anywhere across the state,” said Michael Redden, CEO of New Horizons.  “Kids are literally being transferred from the community they’re from to wherever the open bed is because it really is a provider-driven system.”

New Horizons, a child-placement and foster care agency that serves a seven-county area, submitted a proposal, Redden said.  New Horizons serves Jones, Coleman, Taylor, Brown, San Saba, Mills and McCulloch counties.

DFPS released the request for proposals in Region 2 on Aug. 1 and closed it Nov. 3.  Reed said the bids are being evaluated right now.

Under the Foster Care Redesign, the agency uses performance-based contracts to ensure the provider is just as invested in helping meet children’s needs, helping them heal and achieving stability as the department is, Reed said.

Performance is based on eight quality indicators:

  • Safety of children in their placements
  • Children placed in their home communities
  • Children served in least-restrictive environment with minimal moves
  • Connections to family maintained
  • Siblings placed together
  • Children’s culture respected in placement
  • Children have access to experiences and activities similar to non-foster children
  • Youths allowed to participate in decisions that impact their lives

“The contract itself restricts kids from outside the region being placed within families in the community,” Redden said.  “Texas specifically designed it such that the community would be involved in creating a plan with agencies that are from that community.”

Initially, the contract for Foster Care Redesign began in August 2013 and covered Region 2 and Region 9, which includes the Midland area, Reed said.  The combined regions incorporated 60 counties and proved too large for the provider, who eventually pulled out.

“We’ve had an increase in the number of children who have come into care in our region,” Reed said.  “Region 2 was able to be selected on its own” for a redesign area.

The next area selected for Foster Care Redesign included seven counties in Region 3, the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Those counties are Tarrant, Palo Pinto, Parker, Johnson, Hood, Somervell and Erath. The state selected ACH Child and Family Services as the provider for that area, called Region 3b, in 2014.

Wayne Carson, chief executive officer of ACH, said that after about two years of implementing the redesign strategies, the area has seen significant strides in meeting the performance criteria.  Few children in care have experienced abuse or neglect, and 83 percent of children placed by the agency were kept within 50 miles of their removal location, compared with 71 percent under the old system.

Additionally, 94 percent of new admissions have been stable in their placements, with no more than one move during the two-year performance window, compared with 88 percent with the old system.

Reed said keeping kids closer to their homes after removal allows them to maintain connections in their communities, such as going to the same church and school.  That way children do not suffer additional trauma by losing their support systems, she said.

“One of the reasons we’ve been able to place kids close to home is because of all the providers that work with us,” Carson said.

Our Community, Our Kids, the division of ACH operating the redesign contract, works with about 35 different providers to coordinate care.

“They share data with us about where their homes are and who has an opening.  We have a lot of really good information because of the partnership we have with the folks in the community,” he said. “When we get a child who is in need of care, we have a database that can tell us what homes are the best match for this child to keep them placed in their home community.”

In the beginning, Palo Pinto County had three foster families, Carson said.  The group managed to build the network by getting the word out that there was a need for more foster homes.  Now, there are 33 families in the county licensed or close to being licensed as foster homes, he said.

“That’s why we called the project ‘Our Community, Our Kids,’ because we really believe that the reason redesign is a better approach is because it allows us to start thinking about these kids as our kids,” Carson said.  “We don’t think about them as the state’s kids.  We don’t think about them as foster care kids.”