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Texas must make a transformative change in child protection and foster care



TX – The Texas winter freeze and power outages are once-in-a-lifetime events that qualify as collective trauma for all of us. However, for Texans who were already in need or disproportionately affected by COVID-19, these events are compounding record-high levels of stress.

This crisis reminds us there is a clear and urgent need to put children and their families first this legislative session.

We need to ensure the immediate safety and protection of children who are survivors of child abuse and neglect. While events like the winter storm do not define families already under stressful circumstances, nor lead to child abuse, they do draw attention to the fact that thousands of children and families need our help and support more than ever. And we must work with the legislature on smart solutions to invest in upstream programs that prevent child abuse and neglect and mitigate the negative impact of events like these.

We are encouraged to see Gov. Greg Abbott’s vow to bring the state of Texas into compliance with the longstanding lawsuit against the Texas Foster Care system, recognizing that it is fundamental to ensuring the immediate safety and protection of the nearly 50,000 children who are survivors of child abuse and neglect and come through the state’s foster care doors every year needing help and protection. However, we know the foster care system has caused trauma that is on par, if not more significant, than what initially launched them into foster care.

The governor’s vow is a substantial promise and will require from our legislature this session an investment to the tune of $126 million — significant, yet worth every penny to protect the safety of our children. However, compliance with the lawsuit will not bring about transformational change. It is just the foundation and floor we must build upon.

An investment of $126 million to address the many issues in the lawsuit will not erase the trauma children in the foster care system have suffered. It will not support and protect children and families from reaching critical tipping points caused by unaddressed trauma and stress.

According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, nearly 80 percent of child abuse in Texas is severe neglect often caused by a lack of basic supports or skills, unhealthy coping mechanisms, or underlying mental health challenges. Parents and caregivers can be equipped to combat all of those issues if provided access to needed support.

Child Protective Services involvement on the back end of a crisis should not be our go-to solution. We must consider additional actions we can take to prevent such occurrences. The proven, most effective way to prevent abuse and neglect or crisis from tipping the scale for families is to invest in community networks and prevention programs that get to root causes.

Transformative change requires that we stop expecting our child abuse pandemic to disappear with more investment in a CPS system. Combating child abuse in a transformative way requires us to invest in equitable access to what families need to provide nurturing, safe and stable homes. It means getting to what parents need so they can give their children what they need in return.

And what parents need is access to health care, high-quality childcare and early learning environments so parents can work and provide support within their communities, and reduce economic barriers, particularly those with infants and toddlers.

The legislature has life and death decisions to make and a difficult job, no doubt. We need legislators to invest financially to comply with the lawsuit. And if we want to prevent more children from entering foster care, we need to be investing more than 5% on prevention efforts in a $2 billion child protective services agency. That is not transformative change.

The solution to child abuse is not funding a CPS system; it’s funding what parents and families need and what they need now. We must treat it with urgency because many families are struggling and are on the brink of a crisis at any given moment — that taxpayers will likely pay for.

There should not be an either-or when it comes to protecting our state’s most vulnerable. Lawmakers need to look at the data in front of them, listen to what their constituents need, and learn from what has not historically worked when it comes to combating child abuse.