Summary of 2017 Session

The 85th Texas Legislature began on January 10, 2017 with 150 House members and 31 Senators being sworn in. The Regular Session ended May 29th for a total of 140 days. The legislative session, legislators filed 6,631 bills, a 6% increase over the previous session. In contrast, the legislature only sent 1,211 bills to the governor, a 9% decrease in bills passed compared to the preceding legislative year. Governor Abbott signed a budget of $216.7 billion for the 2018-2019 biennium, a 0.2% increase from the 2016-2017 biennial level. However, when factoring in population growth and inflation there is a 7.6% decrease from the previous session’s budget. Tax cuts and revenue diversions in 2013 and 2015 have reduced available state revenue by more than $10 billion, independent of the decrease in oil and natural gas prices, creating a very difficult and tight budget writing year.
This session, child protection and the foster care systems were declared a priority be leadership and lawmakers and avowed as an emergency by Governor Gregg Abbott.In January, the Governor called attention to Child Protective Services (CPS) in his State address, asking lawmakers to approve structural reforms and increase funding.
Leading up  to session problems plagued CPS. In December 2015, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack ruled that Texas has violated foster children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.” Additionally, low pay and morale among front-line workers led to an unprecedented high turnover and a shortage of caseworkers. Subsequently, children were placed in harm’s way by not being seen in a timely manner within statutory guidelines. The state also struggled to find foster care homes for high needs youth, resulting in may foster children sleeping in CPS offices and in hotels while they await permanent placement.
TeProtects’ staff  closely monitored hundreds of bills over the course of the session, and testified more than 20 times before legislative committees. All of our priority bills passed and the majority of our funding initiatives were included in the General Appropriations Act. This advancement will improve the lives of countless families and their children across the state. Below is a summary of key bills and budget items that have passed.
Senate Bill 1 – The General Appropriations Act (aka “Budget Bill”)
Author: Sen. Jane Nelson; House Sponsor: Rep. John Zerwas
     The Legislature increased funding to expand Prevention programs across the state under the Prevention and Early Intervention Division of DFPS. The funding to serve additional children and families includes:
  • $1.3 million for the Service to At-Risk Youth (STAR) program that serves youth and their families needing crisis intervention help with family conflict, concerns involving school performance and attendance and building parent and youth skills. The program’s highest priority is to support youth remaining in their homes. STAR services are available in all 254 Texas counties.
  • $1.6 million for the Project Helping through Intervention and Prevention (HIP) program (Helping through Intervention and Prevention) that serves eligible families who have a post involvement with CPS and who are at risk. It is designed to build a positive, nurturing home environment and prevent child abuse. The program provides in-home parenting education and basic needs support through community-based organizations using an evidence-based or promising practice program.
  • $800,000 for the Texas Home Visiting Programs (THVP) to enhance maternal and child outcomes and to increase school readiness for children. THV programs provide evidence-based services for at-risk pregnant women and parents/caregivers of children with to age five.
  • $7 million for the Nurse Family Partnership Program that provides services to first-time, low-income mothers to improve pregnancy outcomes, improve child health and development, improve family economic self-sufficiency and stability, and reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect.

Below is a full illustration of funding in the budgets for the current and upcoming biennia for Prevention and Early Intervention programs and services at the Department of Family and Protective Services.

 *In transferring the Texas Home Visiting and Nurse-Family Partnership programs from HHSC to DFPS, certain agency support costs are reflected in a separate budget line item. There is an increase in state funding for grants for home visiting at $800,000 and increase in funding for Nurse-Family Partnership at $7 million.
HB 1342 – Sexual abuse protection training for students
Author: Rep. Tan Parker et al; Senate Sponsor: Sen. Bryan Hughes
House bill 1342 would have required existing child abuse anti-victimization programs provided by school districts in public elementary and secondary schools also include annual, age-appropriate, research-based child sexual abuse prevention training designed to promote self-protection, prevent sexual abuse and trafficking of children. *Unfortunately HB 1342 was vetoed by Governor Abbott.
HB 1549 – The Child Protection Act
Auth: Rep. Cindy Burkett; Senator Sponsor: Sen. Lois Kolkhorst
This omnibus bill contains the Protect Our Kids Commission Recommendations, efforts from the Child Protection Roundtable (which includes 80+ child welfare organizations across Texas) and provisions for which TexProtects has advocated over the past decade.
The Child Protection Act improves prevention efforts through the following initiatives:
  • Requires the Department of State Health Services to evaluate the available child fatality date and use the data to create public health strategies for the prevention of child fatalities;
  • Requires DFPS to identify strategies and goals to increase the number of families in high-risk intervention services each year;
  • Promotes evaluation of prevention programs through partnerships with higher educational institutions to include analysis of efficacy and cost benefit to the state;
  • Codifies the Prevention Task Force to make recommendations to DFPS for certain changes to law, policy, and practices related to prevention of child abuse and neglect. The task force will include a variety of members with established child-protection expertise.
HB 2466 – Post Partium Depression Screening and Maternal Services
Auth: Rep. Sarah Davis et al; Senate Sponsor: Sen. Joan Huffman et all
House bill 2466 requires the Health and Human Services Commission (HSSC) to include a maternal depression screening as a covered service provided to the mothers of enrollees in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), up to the enrollee’s first birthday. It also requires changing the application for Medicaid benefits to include certain information for pregnant applicants, including first time pregnancy. This designation will better assist health plans in offering prospective mothers with beneficial services, such as the Nurse-Family Partnership program.

Child Protective Services

Senate Bill 1 – The General Appropriations Act (aka “Budget Bill”)
Auth: Sen. Jane Nelson; House Sponsor: Rep. John Zerwas
In this fiscally constrained budget, many important state programs and services have received cuts. CPS has fortunately been one of the few areas to avoid budget reductions and includes increased funding. Below is a summary of some of the budget increases the Legislature has approved to improve Texas’ child welfare system.
  • The total funded at $3.5 billion – this is an increase of $508.5 million over 2016-2017 levels.
  • The Legislature also approved additional funds to reduce CPS caseloads and retain caseworker as well as maintain a $12,000 salary increase for CPS caseworkers.
  • An increase of $32.5 million in All Funds to expand Relative Caregiver payments for the 2018-19 biennium which provides support for relative care givers while children are in temporary managing conservatorship of the state.
  • An increase of $94.9 million in All Funds and $28.0 million in General Revenue Funds to further support foster care payments for the legacy and foster care redesign systems, and to expand Foster Care Redesign to three additional regions by the end of the fiscal year 2019.
  • An increase of $6.4 million in All Funds to continue Permanency Care Assistance payments into the 2018-19 biennium which provides support to relative caregivers who become verified and permanent homes for loved ones.
  • An increase of $1.2 million in General Revenue Funds to the Preparation for Adult Living Purchased Services Program to expand the aid provided to foster care youth transitioning into independent living.
  • An additional $1.5 million in All Funds to increase Statewide intake staff positions in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Additional details related to the budget passed by the 85th legislature compared to the appropriations in the 84th session may be fund in the following chart.

Senate Bill 496 – Creation of DFPS Office of Data Analytics
Auth: Sen. Carlos Uresti; House Sponsor: Rep. Gene Wu
This bill requires DFPS to create an office of data analytics as soon as possible after the bill’s effective date of September 1, 2017. The office would report to the DFPS deputy commissioner and work to analyze and evaluate data to improve performance, meet business needs, or fulfill DFPS’ powers and duties. The office would focus its analytics on areas such as workforce shortage predictions, agency performance, retention efforts, and management system creation.
Senate Bill 1806 – Multidisciplinary Team Referrals and Forensic Interviews
Author: Sen. Joan Huffman et al; House Sponsor: Rep. Rick Miller
Senate Bill 1806 requires DFPS to refer cases directly to a child advocacy center’s multidisciplinary team for investigations of sexual abuse or other cases appropriate to that center. This bill also applies to child fatality case in which there are surviving children in the deceased child’s household or under the supervision of the caregiver involved in   the child’s fatality. The bill also require a forensic interview conducted by the center in accordance with they working protocol, unless such an interview is not appropriate based on the child’s age or the center’s working protocol.
HB 5 – DFPS as Standalone Agency
Author: Rep. James Frank et al; Senate Sponsor: Sen. Charles Schwertner
This bill establishes DFPS as a standalone agency under the governor and independent of the Texas Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC). The DFPS commissioner will oversee the agency rathe than coordinate with the HHSC executive commissioner in developing policies, guidelines, and rule making related to DFPS. However, HHSC will continue to b responsible for the administration of Collaboration between the agencies will still occur, but the separation has led proponents of the bill to believe that it will allow the agency to make decisions more quickly and efficiently, as well as showing Texas’ commitment to protecting at-risk children and to the DFPS and its employees.
HB 7 – Parent-Child Relationship Lawsuits
Author: Rep. Gene We et al; Senate Sponsor: Sen. Carlos Uresti et al
An omnibus bill which impacts nearly every aspect of a suit involving a parent-child relationship. Broadly, the bill requires DFPS and the courts to spend more time evaluating risk and weighing the best interest of the child. To accomplish this, House Bill 7 provides add atonal opportunities for families and care givers to testify regarding placements. It requires DFPS and the court to routinely look for kinship placements throughout the child’s time in custody of the state. The bill would encourage courts to continue the appointment of guardian ad items and attorney ad liter’s for children, and asks that those representatives periodically check in on the children they represent. Care givers and parents are invited to converse with the ad items and are provided the opportunity to testify during permanency reviews.
HB 1549 – The Child Protection Act
Author: Rep. Cindy Burkett; Senate Sponsor: Sen. Lois Kolhorst
The Child Protection Act improves the workforce and its operations by addressing CPS’s massive turnover problem through retention and staffing strategies and it strengthens foster care.
Specifically, the bill:
  • Requires DFPS to develop and implement a caseload management system for caseworkers and managers, including weighting cases by complexity, implementing the “just in time” vacancy replacement program, calculating caseloads based on “care-assignable” available workers only;
  • In geographic areas with demonstrated need, The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) will designate employees to serve specifically as investigators and responders for after-hours for after-hours reports of child abuse or neglect;
  • Requires DFPS to provide ongoing support to caseworkers who experience secondary employment.
  • Requires DFPS – in collaboration with foster re providers, faith-based entities, and child advocates in regions across the state – to use data to create a foster care capacity needs plan to address the substitute care capacity needs in each individual region, including both short nd one-trm goals and strategies for addressing those capacity needs.
Kinship Care
House Bill 4 – Increased Monetary Assistance for Kinship Caregivers
Author: Rep. Cindy Burkett et al; Senate Sponsor; SEN. Charles Schwertner
This bill increases monetary assistance for qualified “kinship caregivers” – relatives who step up to care for children who must be removed from their homes.
Research shows better social, health and educational outcomes for children in kinship care than those in the foster care system. However, thee caregivers, may of whom live below poverty level, receive only a $1000 one-time payment when they take on this role, plus a small annual reimbursement for purchasing items like clothing or a bed for the child. HB 4 would allow kinship caregivers with incomes at 300% of the federal poverty level ($73,800 for family of 4) or less to receive up to 50% of the basic rate paid for foster care, paid monthly (approximately $386 per month).
Foster Care System
Senate Bill 11 – Knows as “Community-Based Foster Care”
Author: Sen. Charles Schweriner; House Sponsor: Rep. James Frank
This legislation is significant child protective services bill that contains provisions for the gradual transfer of foster care services in certain regions of Texas from the state to private nonprofit contractors.
Here are the major highlights of the bill:
  • Transfers case management from Child Protective Services to a “single source contractor” in catchment areas where community based care is already underway, on September 1, 2017. Creates oversight, including the review of permanency goals, by the Department of Family and Protective Services. Allows for the expansion to go up to eight catchment area;
  • In one area, allows for the transfer of Family Based Safety Services (FSSS) case management to a private entity, with a performance-based contract focused on reducing recurrence of child maltreatment
  • Improves the quality and standards of abuse and neglect investigations in foster care;
  • Requires DFPS to track recurrence of abuse and neglect more comprehensively;
  • Allows DFPS to partner with institutions of higher learning to evaluate the efficacy of prevention programs;
  • Requires DFPS to evaluate FBSS and post-adoptive service contracts related to recurrence;
  • Requires medical assessments within three days for children coming into foster care who were removed due to sexual or physical abuse or have an obvious physical injury; or have a chronic medical condition, medical complex condition or diagnosed mental illness.
  • Requires medical providers to be notified of placement changes in foster care.
Senate Bill 1758 – Youth Aging Out of Care
Author: Sen. Judith Zaffirini House Sponsor: Rep. Chris Turner
Senate Bill 1758 directs DFPS to work with outside stakeholders to develop a plan to standardize and improve curriculum for the Preparation for Adult Living Program and to ensure that youth that are 14 or older enrolled in the program receive relevant and age appropriate training. The legislation also expands an ad litem’s role to include inquiries into whether a youth they represent has their birth certificate, school records and identification before they age out of care and ensures that these documents re discussed at each permanency hearing as a youth prepares to age out of care.
House Bill 1542 – Least Restrictive Environment Placements
Author: Rep. Four Price et al; Senate Sponsor: Sen. Brian Birdwell et al
This bill defines the factors DFPS must consider when locating a placement for a child that has been removed from his or her home. It requires that DFPS must place a child in the least restrictive setting. Least restrictive has been defined in federal law as the most family like placement. This has been interpreted to mean kinship or foster family homes in Texas in the past.HB 1542 alters this definition to include congregate care operations labeled as cottage homes. Proponents of this legislation believe that more children can and should be placed in congregate care labeled as a cottage home. Concerns have arisen regarding whether or not congregate care provided in the cottage setting is identical to care provided in a foster family home.
HB 3859 – Protection of Rights of Conscience to Child Welfare Service Providers
Author: Rep. James Frank et al; Senate Sponsor: Sen. Charles Perry et al
House Bill 3859 adds a new chapter to the Human Resources Code, entitled Protection of Rights of Conscience for child Welfare Services Providers. Proponents of this legislation believe it will work to maintain a diverse network of several providers that offer a range of foster capacity options aimed to accommodate children from various cultural backgrounds. Opponents of this legislation believe it allows providers with the ability to discrimination or adverse actions based on their refusal to provide services to a child potential foster parent.
For more information contact:
Pamela McPeters, Director of Public Policy [512 E. 11th Street/Suite 201/Austin, TX 78701] Phone: (512)913-4408
Dimple Patel, Senior Policy Analyst [512 E. 11th Street/Suite 201/Austin, TX 78701] Phone: (214) 929-2922