DFPS Adopts and Begins Implementing the Foster Children's Bill of Rights
by Senator Carlos Uresti
This week the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) announced they have finalized, adopted and will begin implementing the Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in Foster Care starting this month. This could not have come at a better time. Children in the State's care are particularly vulnerable, and it is essential that foster children know their rights. This Bill of Rights will strengthen and clarify the protections these children are entitled to during their care and provide them with the ability to advocate for their rights in the future.
This past session, I authored Senate Bill 805; legislation that would have created a Foster Children's Bill of Rights. This legislation would have included the right: to live in a safe, healthy, and comfortable home where the child is treated with respect; to be free from physical, sexual, emotional, and other abuse, including corporal punishment and any form of discipline that humiliates or demeans the child; to receive adequate and healthy food; to receive and keep adequate clothing suitable to the child's age and size and comparable to the clothing of other children in the community; to receive appropriate medical, dental, vision, and mental health services and many more.
Though the legislation made it out of the Senate, the House of Representatives failed to pass it. However, a force had been set in motion. Citizens and community organizations—all who know how important this issue is to both foster parents and children and all those involved—came together and refused to give up the fight. Texans have a responsibility to protect foster children and the Bill of Rights is a big first step in doing that. Last October, DFPS called out to community organizations, foster families, and elected officials asking for comments on the proposed bill of rights. Stakeholders responded to the call and DFPS finalized a Bill of Rights very similar to the legislation that passed the Senate.
Key to the Bill of Rights is the implementation plan, which is now underway. The goal is to reach as many caregivers and foster children as possible, so they can familiarize themselves with the Bill of Rights. Child Protective Services (CPS) has created a form for caregivers, youth, and CPS workers to review which contains the Bill of Rights. This allows CPS workers to inform foster children about their rights and give them an opportunity to ask questions. This form is then signed by all three parties, copies given to each one, and one copy placed in the child's file. In addition to having a CPS worker directly explain a child's rights in person, DFPS will also post the Bill of Rights on their website this month. Procedures for the use of the Bill of Rights is currently being drafted and will be communicated to staff and care providers in February; changes to the CPS and Texas Foster Care Handbook for Youth will be completed this Spring.
I think that one of the most creative and interesting ways in which DFPS is educating children 10 years old and younger is by making a coloring book aimed at communicating the Bill of Rights. The new coloring book should be available this Summer.
As you can probably tell, I am extremely excited to see the efforts of so many pay off in such a big way and I want to thank everyone who has been involved with this project. This Bill of Rights is going to effect not only the foster children currently in the system, but also future generations of children for whom the State is their only protection.
Carlos I. Uresti is the senator from State Senate District 19, a 23 county area stretching along the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Antonio to El Paso County, including all or part of the following counties: Bandera, Bexar, Brewster, Culberson, Crockett, El Paso, Edwards, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Kinney, Loving, Maverick, Medina, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Ward, and Winkler. Covering 55,000 square miles, the district contains 62 school districts, and spans two time zones. As the largest geographical senate district in the contiguous 48 states, Senate District 19 is larger than 24 states and 25 countries.