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Austin, Texas 78711
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SENATOR NELSON FILES LEGISLATION TO BETTER SERVE CHILDREN IN CPS
AUSTIN — Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed eight bills today to better serve children in foster care and other programs connected to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Many of the reforms aim to nurture a community, transparent and collaborative approach to address the needs of our most vulnerable populations.
"These reforms are needed to ensure that our services truly meet the unique needs of each child in the DFPS system. Their goal is to achieve meaningful, positive impact in the lives of children with the goal of helping them find permanent, supportive homes. Everything we do at Child Protective Services should be geared toward protecting children, helping them overcome adversity and giving them the best possible opportunity to live a healthy, successful life," Senator Nelson said.
Alternative Response: SB 423 authorizes an alternative response system for low-risk cases in which there is no immediate danger to a child. For qualifying cases, Child Protective Services (CPS) would have the flexibility to take a more supportive approach with families that can be kept together through education, counseling, and other services. "By creating a less adversarial track, parents are more open and engaged and caseworkers can focus their efforts and resources to strengthen family functioning. This type of system can help lower turnover among caseworkers and reduce recidivism for families."
Psychotropic Medications: SB 424 ensures the psychotropic drug plan for foster youth is appropriate, necessary and monitored by creating a more transparent process. It requires informed consent before prescribing psychotropic medications and requires that each child's court summary include any alternative approaches that were attempted, a plan to discontinue medication and the child's prognosis with and without medication. "While we have come a long way in addressing the issue of psychotropic medication for children in foster care, we still have more work to do to ensure we are only medicating children when appropriate. This legislation ensures that medicating children is not the first option or the only option considered."
CASA Consultations: SB 425 requires that the CASA volunteer, guardian ad litem, and attorney ad litem are consulted prior to changing a child's CPS placement, except in cases of emergency, to ensure that each placement decision is made with input from these child advocates. "The goal of this legislation is to reduce the number of placement changes by encouraging more teamwork among the individuals working to support children in the CPS system. CASA and other child advocates play an important role, and we should ensure they have a voice in placement decisions."
Home Visiting Program: SB 426 promotes evidence-based practices for prevention programs by requiring that at least 75% of appropriated home visiting funds go to evidence-based programs. "By creating outcome standards for funding of home visitation programs, we can ensure that our resources are achieving positive results and preventing future harm to at-risk children."
Child Care Background Checks: SB 427 closes a loophole by requiring residential child care contractors and CPS workers who coordinate services for children in foster care homes to undergo background checks before working with children in the foster care and child placement system. "We have a responsibility to ensure that all workers who come into contact with children in state care are properly vetted and that the requirements are consistent throughout the system."
Mentoring Programs: SB 428 lays the foundation for CPS to establish mentoring programs in which foster parents can mentor biological parents as they prepare to be reunited with their children. Specifically, it deletes a requirement for a duplicative background check that currently creates an administrative and cost barrier to creating a mentoring program. "Mentoring programs where foster parents work with biological parents to understand the needs of their children can greatly improve outcomes and help ensure that reunification is a permanent solution."
CPS Dismissals: SB 429 requires judges, before approving the dismissal of a CPS suit, to consider whether any preexisting child support, visitation, or other orders affecting the children would continue to be in effect after dismissal and whether the dismissal would be in the best interest of the children. "When cases are dismissed, we must ensure there is a thorough examination of other judicial orders impacting the child before closing these cases. The holistic needs of the child must be considered."
Day Care Cost-Sharing: SB 430 incorporates a recommendation from the Legislative Budget Board to ensure that the state is making efficient use of resources when paying for child care. Specifically, it requires that day care services provided by the Department of Family and Protective Services are a provider of last resort for relative and foster caregivers. "This legislation will ensure the state's resources are available for the families who truly need them and have no other options at their disposal."
Legislators may continue to file bills until the bill filing deadline on March 8, 2013. To search legislation, visit the Texas Legislature online at www.capitol.state.tx.us.
EDITOR'S NOTE: All quotes in the capsules above are attributable to Senator Nelson.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.