Saving Texas kids, with private-sector help

Photo by Chan Lone

Over a year ago, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack declared that Texas' foster care system is unconstitutional, stating that it violates children's rights by exposing them to unreasonable risk of harm. This ruling prompted the Texas House and Senate to hold several hearings to review the agency, exposing overwhelming institutional breakdowns, extremely high caseworker turnover rates and finding that over 2,000 children were still living in severely abusive home situations.

The court ruling and subsequent committee hearings led Gov. Greg Abbott to replace the executive director of the agency and to make the overhaul of Child Protective Services (CPS) an “emergency” item for the 85th legislative session.

The problems at CPS absolutely cannot go ignored. We can no longer sit idly by while children continue to suffer in group homes and outright abusive environments across the state. The Legislature must direct the agency to make significant changes to the way it operates. However, this problem cannot be solved just by overhauling the agency; non-profit and faith-based communities will have to accept the call for help and play a more distinct role in the process. The faith community needs to partner with caseworkers to provide additional options when families are in crisis.

I will fight to ensure that CPS is reformed effectively and is able to reach every child before abuse occurs. I have already authored House Bill 871 and House Bill 872, which aim to alleviate some of the burden on the agency by focusing on prevention and early intervention with families at risk or in need of assistance.

Both bills would allow non-profits, including faith-based organizations, to reach out to families in crisis, intervening before abuse or neglect occurs. There are already many organizations around the state offering fantastic programs to mentor parents and prevent abuse. Other organizations are helping children find new homes and assisting new parents with the adoption process. We need to allow these approved and thoroughly vetted programs to directly connect with parents and families, getting families help when they need it most.

It is my hope that this will allow for community members to help establish relationships of trust with the parents without CPS ever having to be involved.

If passed, my bills would also allow these community organizations to assume temporary guardianship of children before and during CPS investigation periods with the written approval of one or both parents. That would help to keep families intact and keep children out of dangerous situations like group homes.

We must come together as a state and as a community to lift these children up and make them our number-one priority. Every child deserves to live in a loving home. With the help of parents and communities, we can work together to give every child this opportunity.

Kevin Roberts

State representative, HD-126