Senator Jane Nelson
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923

OP-ED
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 4, 2008
Contact: Dave Nelson (817) 424-3446

HIGH-PROFILE CASE UNDERSCORES NEED FOR FOSTER/ADOPTIVE PARENTS

When the Department of Family & Protective Services removed 416 children from a polygamous sect near Eldorado, it drew statewide attention to perhaps the single greatest challenge facing our state's child welfare system -- finding safe, supportive homes for displaced children.

Currently, there are approximately 9,500 foster homes in Texas. That's well below the 17,354 children who were in the foster system as of December 2007, which is why the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services will focus heavily on the need for foster homes when we take public testimony on our interim charges relating to foster care and child protective services at our upcoming hearing.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 30, 2008, in the Senate chamber, we will examine the actions taken this month at Eldorado and the lessons being learned as DFPS continues the single largest child welfare investigation ever undertaken in our state. We will evaluate the impact it is having on an already strapped foster system. We will also discuss the state's efforts to recruit and certify Texans stepping up to become foster and adoptive parents.

Over the past two legislative sessions, the Legislature made child protection and foster care a top priority, partly in response to breakdowns in the system that had led to tragedies. Legislation I authored in each of the last two sessions sought to better protect children from abuse and neglect by adding new layers of oversight and expanding the drug-endangered child initiative.

We also focused on improving the network of support for foster children. New medical passports were approved to better manage their health care. Job training and support services were enhanced for children aging out of the system. Kinship care options were strengthened.

However, it became clear during our discussions last year that the greatest challenge ahead would be to increase our capacity to care for displaced children. Many Texans (including me), were disturbed to learn that 500 children had slept overnight at CPS offices.

In response, the Legislature approved $20.8 million to increase reimbursement rates for Texans who provide foster care and a call went out across the state encouraging more Texans to consider becoming foster or adoptive parents. I am proud to report that hundreds of Texans have answered that call.

For opening their hearts and homes to children in need, these Texans deserve our thanks and support. Unfortunately, some prospective foster and adoptive parents have reported less than grateful interactions with those shepherding them through the certification process.

Clearly, we have a duty to fully vet each candidate because we are entrusting them with the most precious of cargo. However, we also have a responsibility to those children who are waiting for loving homes, which is why an efficient and welcoming verification process is so critical.

It would be helpful for us to hear from those with first-hand experience about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, especially with ideas on how to improve the system. We are issuing an open invitation for testimony on this issue.

For those wishing to testify in person, please fill out a witness card at the beginning of the hearing. The cards will be available at the entrance to the Senate Chamber. For those wishing to submit written testimony, please provide 20 copies to the clerk at the hearing and be certain that your name and contact information are included.

Public testimony will follow invited testimony. If you are unable to testify in person, I welcome your written comments, which can be directed to me personally at P.O. Box 12068, Austin, Texas 78711, or via e-mail to me at jane.nelson@senate.state.tx.us.

The children removed from the Eldorado ranch have garnered most of the headlines in Texas this month. Let's not forget the other young Texans who, due to abuse or neglect or abandonment, are also entitled to our attention and support.

SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, which includes portions of Tarrant and Denton counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services

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