Crisis in Texas Foster Care
They are everybody’s children, and nobody’s children. They are the forgotten children in the Texas foster care system.
Some of them find homes with caring foster parents, or in treatment centers with experienced and caring providers. And some do not.
Some foster children have been moved among 30, 40 or even more all-too-temporary “homes.” Some have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused while in the system; some have run away and joined the ranks of the missing. A few have even died at the hands of those entrusted with their care.
This report gives these children something they need—a voice.
The mission of the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS), now called the Department of Family and Protective Services, is to protect the unprotected—children, the elderly and people with disabilities—from abuse, neglect and exploitation. The system responsible for protecting our foster children sometimes is little better than the homes from which they were taken.
Some of these children are not safe, and their futures are uncertain. They didn’t ask to be put in foster care, and many endured great suffering before entering the system.
Federal and state oversight agencies have reported on DPRS’ troubles repeatedly, yet the problems remain. And simple patches will not fi x them. Despite individual efforts by caring staff, foster parents and providers, the Comptroller’s review team found that the foster care system is failing too many children, from their placement, care and monitoring to the business processes that support them.
The system refl ects a legacy of weak leadership; an atmosphere of helpless acquiescence to the status quo; a reluctance to look too closely into dark corners; and a culture of self-protection and buck-passing.
DPRS’ problems are many and varied:
it uses limited taxpayer dollars inefficiently;
- it tolerates wide disparities in the quality of the services it purchases;
- it offers caregivers a perverse fi nancial incentive to keep children in restrictive environments by paying them more money to provide children with expensive and restrictive placements, and offering them little incentive to help children return to their homes or become adopted;
- it operates an ineffi cient dual system of foster care, thus creating a confl ict of interest in which the agency regulates itself;
- it fails to take advantage of opportunities to increase federal funding and develop innovative approaches to providing services;
- it frequently moves children from one caregiver to another, sometimes hundreds of miles apart, offering them little chance at stability;
- it relies on an antiquated placement system that requires caseworkers to make countless telephone calls to place children;
- it has a history of inadequate licensing standards, weak contract monitoring and ineffective licensing investigations that allow the same problems to continue festering at the same facilities for years, exploiting children as well as the state’s finances;
- it holds some residential facilities to a lower standard than other residential facilities;
- it provides little accountability for disturbing amounts of psychotropic medications prescribed to foster children;
- its heavy caseloads and high caseworker turnover often prevent the agency from performing required visits with foster children;
- it mixes potentially dangerous children, such as sexual offenders and those with violent criminal records, with others;
- it often fails to adequately serve children with special needs, such as the medically fragile and children with mental retardation;
- it fails to address the educational needs of foster children;
- it has no good plan for preparing foster children for adulthood, or even for tracking what happens to them when they leave the system; and
it does not survey foster children – their primary customers – as required by law.
On the bright side, there are facilities and providers in Texas that are doing good things for foster children. And it is important to highlight the bright spots.
Some facilities aggressively seek community support. Websites of these facilities list numerous ways “you can help or give.” Ways to assist include monetary contributions, planned gifts, corporate partnerships, gifts in honor or memory and donations of clothing, books, shoes and diapers. Some providers sponsor golf tournaments, garage sales and other fund raising activities. These private providers also encourage community volunteers to assist children with activities, studies, holiday parties and meal preparation. One Emergency Shelter has the support of local professional chefs that prepare meals for foster children four times a week.
Yet other facilities have isolated themselves from their communities.
This report provides new and detailed information on a troubled agency. The Comptroller’s offi ce hopes that its fi ndings and recommendations will gain the attention needed to make real changes in Texas foster care.
Texas taxpayers pay for foster care and have the right to expect that the state will do its part to ensure that foster children are safe and have a chance to build a prosperous future. The problems encountered while preparing this report run so deep and so wide that simple fi xes will not work. And waiting will not do. The state must take immediate action, so that fundamental change can begin now.
[The above is the introduction to a 306 page Special Report on the Texas Foster Care System]