Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 22, 2007
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

Addressing financial needs of foster care relatives

Recent reports of children sleeping in state and county offices prove that our foster care system is failing. One of my bills attempts to find methods that may increase foster homes by placing more children with relatives.

Signed into law Sunday, June 17, Senate Bill 723 requires the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to determine when a potential placement of a child with a willing relative caregiver isn't possible simply for financial reasons. This is a serious concern, especially along the Border, where culturally and traditionally we "take care of our own" before entrusting a family member to the state. My bill will enable us to see if decreasing the shortfalls will provide more kin care for Texas children.

Currently the state provides a minimum of $20.56 for a foster child--the rate increases as the child's needs increase. Family foster care providers only receive a one time payment of $1,000 plus annual expenses up to $500. This meager allotment discourages willing but struggling families.

Kinship placements for foster youth, in most instances, are less traumatic because they enable children to live with people they know and trust. Also, it helps a child make and sustain extended family connections where there is familiarity. Anything we can do to increase financial payments to willing families to provide foster care is a win-win situation for everyone, but especially the child.

By collecting data on how many potential placements with kin providers fail only for financial reasons, I will have the evidence to come back next session and push legislation to provide an adequate reimbursement rate for these families. SB 723 also requires DFPS to record how much money potential family care providers would need to appropriately care for the child or sibling set.

In Fiscal Year 2005-2006, almost 800 children in my Senatorial district were removed from their homes and placed in foster care; however, by the end of 2006, only 62 homes could serve as potential placements. In Cameron County alone, there are currently 35 children in foster care awaiting adoption because the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated.

The number of Texas children in foster care increased by 45 percent between 2001 and today, varying considerably by county. Of 20,000 children, 348 were removed in Cameron, 345 in Hidalgo, 53 in Kleberg, and 33 in Willacy as of June 6, 2007. Adding the surrounding South Texas counties, total removals were about 1,770.

Caseworkers responsible for these children and their families have an overwhelmingly high number of cases, all with unique challenges. They must respond to all initial reports of abuse and must conduct before, during and after placement evaluations. Texas is divided into 11 foster care regions, and when DFPS cannot find a home within the child's county, then the child is placed as close as possible.

Many of the problems in the current system directly result from years of chronic under-funding. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked this past legislative session to increase payments for foster care providers. For the 2006-07 biennium, we appropriated $776.8 million, and for 2008-09, we increased it to $845.9 million, or by 8.8 percent.

My bill also requires peace officers to take specific precautions when investigating a case of alleged family violence if the incidence occurs in a foster home. Safety in a foster placement is essential. These children have faced enough pain and sorrow. They shouldn't be exposed to fearful situations, violence or abuse in their new environments.

Another bill I supported, Senate Bill 758, makes numerous improvements that will increase suitable caseworker recruitments and provide more thorough inspections of agencies involving the care or placement of children. To further assist children in foster care, this legislation enhances services that can be tailored to the unique needs of individual children.

For families adopting children, the bill requires them to receive the maximum allowable subsidy that would otherwise be paid to the foster family. By raising this subsidy, we anticipate adoptions will increase and provide children the stable homes that will help them thrive.

I am sure that the foster care issue has come through the doors of my colleagues' offices throughout the state as often as through mine. This is truly a statewide issue: one that must be addressed as soon as possible for the sake of the children! As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.

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