DFPS Commissioner Briefs Committee On Eldorado Issue
(AUSTIN) — Senators on the Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony Wednesday from the head of the agency charged with caring for the 463 minors removed from a polygamist compound in west Texas earlier this month. Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Commissioner Carey Cockerell says the children are being well-cared for, with special attention to the unique needs these children require. Cockerell assured the committee that every effort is being made to respect the religious requirements of these minors.
Cockerell testified that state workers who are trying to sort out family ties, ages and even names, face challenges from older women from the compound, who may be coaching the children not to co-operate. Cockerell also said that some of the women change clothes and names of themselves and the children in order to confuse investigators. An attempt to use ID bracelets may have been sabotaged by some of the women. State investigators are also looking for evidence of abuse at the compound. Some children show evidence of past injuries such as broken bones, and investigators are trying to discern how those injuries occurred.
This was the largest removal in state history, but Cockerell says other children under DFPS care will not be impacted by the new cases. Charity groups and other state and non-state agencies have volunteered supplies and services to DFPS, and are aiding with the placement and care process.
The committee then went on to its scheduled business, considering the impact and implementation of reforms to the child protective services from the past two legislative sessions. One of these directives charged DFPS with improving its foster care system, and reducing the amount of time a child spends under foster care. Cockerell testified that a number of different programs are working toward these goals, including a group model that lets social workers and parents co-operate on a plan to bring kids back home. Also included are increased funds for parenting classes, anger management and drug and substance abuse programs for parents, and a grant program through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to offset poverty-related causes of removal.
Kinship placement is another component of improving foster care. Cockerell said that even though the state pays much less money to families that foster relatives, these children are less likely to go back into foster care than children who are fostered with strangers. The number of kids placed with relatives increased from 6800 in 2005, to 8500 in 2008.