Saving children from the system meant to protect them

Photo by Todd Wiseman

What should be done with a caregiver who knowingly places or allows children to remain in conditions or surroundings where “rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm?” The Texas Legislature is currently grappling with this seemingly simple question.

Some are suggesting we do little more than pay the caregiver more money and hope for spontaneous change. In the meantime, they recommend that the caregiver continue to provide care and make decisions on behalf of children.

If I were talking about a parent or even a babysitter, we would demand accountability and rush to rescue the children from such a hellscape. No reasonable person would agree with the wisdom or logic of doubling down on what is already placing children at risk. However, because I am talking about the state’s long-troubled Child Protective Services, apologists and excuses abound.

CPS is the temporary or permanent caregiver of over 30,000 Texas children. For decades, CPS has systematically placed children in its care at substantial risk of harm, leaving children more damaged when they exit foster care than when they entered. Nevertheless, the proposed budgets in both chambers increase appropriations for the agency by almost $500 million.

Failure to fully reform this system while simultaneously flooding it with cash means the same lousy system, only bigger.

Over 69 percent of children come into the child welfare system due to a lack of appropriate supervision. After removal, their situations generally deteriorate rather than improve — such that children removed for neglect become the victims of physical and sexual abuse in state custody. The frequency of such abuse is virtually unknown because the agency’s approach to reporting abuse in care has kept those numbers artificially low and the agency has not kept track of child-on-child abuse, including sexual abuse.

Texas is often too quick to remove these children from their homes; many times the decision is made to protect the system rather than the children. CPS intervention separates over 30,000 children from their parents each year. Seizing children should be the last resort. State custody presents risks to children that dirty homes, disconnected utilities, and differences of opinion on what constitutes good parenting simply do not justify.

Even when children must be temporarily separated from their parents, relatives and community members are in the best position to offer temporary support to families in need. Rather than remaining complicit in CPS’s failure by accepting its excuses and increasing its funding, members in both chambers are proposing solutions that keep children safety at home, engage extended family and increase community ownership in foster care by expanding the role of community nonprofits.

Texas foster children need results rather than excuses. Yet bureaucratic inertia entreats legislators to leave children’s fates in the hands of a broken state agency, which has shown little aptitude for improvement — or worse, to buoy the sinking state agency with tax dollars. Instead, legislators should focus on keeping children with their parents, or at least within their extended family or community.

Brandon J. Logan

Director, Center for Families and Children, Texas Public Policy Foundation

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