The Chinese word for “crisis” has been quoted as meaning “danger” and “opportunity” (or some translate to “incipient moment” or “crucial point” of change).
The crisis of the Texas foster care system faces such a moment. Consider these recent developments:
A federal appeals court has ruled that Texas must hire more state workers to protect foster children, yet it overruled the lower court mandate that Texas increase the number of much-needed foster care homes.
Hank Whitman, Commissioner of Child Protective Services, testified to the Texas House last week that the Legislature’s approval last session to significantly increase salaries and hire more caseworkers succeeded in reducing turnover.
This is partial progress. But instead of only asking “How do we house and care for abused children?” we must follow up by asking “How can we stop children from being abused?”
The painfully missing solution to reduce demand for foster homes is to let Texas use some of the same funds to prevent child maltreatment.
A new law, the Family First Prevention Services Act, allows just that.
Federal funds previously reserved only for foster care can now be redirected to investments in evidence-based prevention programs.
Prevention investment represents a shift in policy. Instead of helping children only after they’ve suffered trauma, government is now addressing risk factors in an attempt to avert danger and damage.
Family First presents another “crucial moment” — if Texas lawmakers take action now.
In the 2019 legislative session, the governor and Legislature must opt-in to access the funding, and then define the parameters for eligible children.
Family First says investments must be targeted for children “at imminent risk of entering foster care,” but leaves it up to individual states to define criteria.
The type of programs in the new law already exist in Texas and have been proved not only effective but cost-effective. Example programs include:
SafeCare: This research-based, in-home program serves caregivers of children from birth to age 5 who have a confirmed child maltreatment incident. With home visits by a trained professional, SafeCare improves caregiver investments in the child’s health, enhances home safety, and improves positive caregiver-child interaction while reducing child maltreatment. A Casey Family Programs evaluation of SafeCare estimates a cost of $1,950 per family served, offset by an estimated savings of $3,563.
Nurse-Family Partnership programs work with families before an incident occurs. This program has demonstrated a 48 percent decrease in child maltreatment, increased child cognitive development, reduced Medicaid costs and increased family self-sufficiency. A Rand corporation analysis showed a $5.70 return for every $1 invested in the Nurse-Family Partnership.
Family First also directs funds to programs that support family preservation, including short-term, therapeutic supports provided while the child remains with family members. Some of these programs tackle the top driver of child trauma today — the opioid crisis — and include recovery treatment that allows the child to reside inpatient with the recovering parent.
The return on investment of prevention programs, by building family resiliency and reducing incidents of abuse and neglect, can be substantial and immediate. Think about how savings could translate to reduce taxpayers’ burden if all at risk families were offered services.
In fiscal year 2017, a total of 50,293 children spent at least some time in the care of the state. Proven prevention programs could reduce the $2 billion CPS budget while averting maltreatment. How many children’s lives could be saved?
We hope the state acts swiftly to implement the court’s order and end the practice of endangering our foster care children.
Simultaneously, we trust state lawmakers will seize this opportunity provided by the Family First Prevention Services Act to improve Texas children’s lives, someday making foster care unnecessary.