Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Governor of Texas doubles down on foster care tragedy

Gov. Abbott
The Texas Tribune has a story today about how Gov. Greg Abbott’s desperate effort to keep from being blamed for high-profile child abuse tragedies has led to thousands of low-profile child abuse tragedies.

That’s not how the story put it, but that’s what happened.

The Tribune obtained emails documenting how Abbott pressured the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to cut back drastically on a form of kinship care placement, called “Parental Child Safety Placements” after a child died in such a placement.  (Because, of course, children never die in any other kind of placement.)

Although Abbott’s office apparently cited three cases, one involved a four-year-old who fatally shot himself after finding a gun under a bed in the home of the relative with whom he was placed.  A horrible tragedy but, sadly, not something probably not unknown in all sorts of homes in Texas.  Another didn’t involve a child who was in a “Parental Child Safety Placement” at all.

In fact, study, after study has found that kinship care placements -- whether formal or informal, licensed or unlicensed -- are more stable, better for children’s well-being and, most important, safer than what should properly be called “stranger care.” 

But Gov. Abbott isn’t about to let research get in the way of saving his administration from questions about how his child welfare agency “allowed” a child to die.  So, ignoring the advice of his then child welfare agency chief, John Specia - one of the very few people in Texas child welfare who is almost universally admired - he pressured DFPS to drastically curb these placements.  Specia has since resigned.

The result: This type of placement has been cut in half, and, in 2015, the number of formal entries into foster care skyrocketed by 37 percent over the year before.  That means far more children are now consigned to the formal Texas foster care system.  And by now everyone knows that placing a child in foster care in Texas doesn’t simply put the child at risk of abuse – it almost guarantees it.


The emails also tell us something else:

Some in Texas have claimed they don’t have a wrongful removal problem because the rate of removal supposedly is low.

That’s always been misleading:

● The number of children torn from their parents in Texas each year is escalating rapidly — it soared more than 40 percent from 2009 to 2014 – and that was before the 37 percent increase in 2015.

● The statewide figure hides as much as it reveals. The rate of removal in Dallas is more than 20 percent higher than New York City and more than 90 percent higher than Chicago.

● Among the nation’s biggest cities, children in San Antonio are taken from their homes at the third-highest rate, even when rates of child poverty are factored in.

But now we know something else: The official figures are 100 percent Grade A B------t.

Because Texas has been keeping all those “Parental Child Safety Placements” off the books – not counting them in the figures it reports to the federal government concerning entries into care.

But while kinship care is a better option than stranger care, it’s still foster care.  And a removal counts as a removal regardless of whether the agency goes to court or obtains formal custody.

Federal regulations define foster care as :

24 hour substitute care for all children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the State agency has placement and care responsibility. 
 The regulations go on to say that

the State is required to count a placement that lasts more than 24 hours while the child is in foster care under the placement, care or supervision responsibility of the State agency”
 Note that it does not say “custody” of the agency, only “placement, care or supervision responsibility.”

So yes, Texas is taking away too many children – but DFPS has been “hiding” many of them when it reports entries into care.


One other item is noteworthy in the story.  It concerns the Texas chapter of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

CASA is the most sacred cow in child welfare.  It is a program in which largely white, middle-class volunteers are, in effect, deputized by courts to poke their noses into the homes of people who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately people of color, and pass judgment on how they take care of their children.  (Some CASA chapters actually are projects of the local Junior League.)  As my organization documents here, the results for the children in these families have been predictably awful.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Texas CASA took a look at the record of Greg Abbott, a governor fully committed to the far-right agenda of undermining children’s health, safety and well-being – not just in child welfare, but in all facets of state governement - and declared him to be a “champion for children.”

Read more about how to fix Texas child welfare

Read NCCPR's 2005 report on Texas child welfare