AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas legislators are set to take a closer look at how to recruit qualified foster families and providers in the July special session, as children across the state are still sleeping in state offices and hotels.

In the proclamation Gov. Greg Abbott released before session gaveled in Thursday, he announced the legislature would consider providing appropriations from the available general revenue fund for the “enhanced protection for the safety of children in Texas’ foster-care system by attracting and retaining private providers for the system.”

During the regular session, lawmakers passed a bill to prevent children without placements from sleeping in places like CPS offices, but several advocates told KXAN the measure would be difficult to implement without any funding or incentive for more providers to come online — or more families to start fostering children.

“We really had a critical need to increase foster care rates, and that didn’t happen,” said Kate Murphy with Texans Care for Children.

Two lawmakers from San Antonio said they both believe increasing the reimbursements families and providers receive would help ease the capacity issues, and they both sent letters to the governor asking him to consider prioritizing the issue in the special session.

“How do we attract more people into the foster care system, so we can have appropriate places for children to be?” asked Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio). “At the rates the state was willing to pay, we just don’t have the number of providers that would make sense.”

He said he’s hearing foster care providers have left the system because of pressures from the pandemic, but also increased oversight for providers due to the ongoing federal lawsuit against the state.

Sally Fussell, administrator of the Foster and Adopt in Austin program through the SAFE Alliance, said they accept the close monitoring as necessary to ensure kids statewide are getting adequate care. Fussell, who has been working with kids and families in the system for around 40 years, said their screening and orientation for prospective foster families is “rigorous” but “truthful.”

“The work is hard,” Fussell admitted. “The most amazing families come to us.”

Still, she wishes the payments for these families and for providers such as SAFE itself for case management were higher.

“It embarrasses me to tell people what the payment is,” she said.

As of 2019, foster families can be reimbursed in monthly payments that range from $300 to just over $1,000, depending on whether the child needs basic, moderate, specialized, intense or a higher level of care. Residential facilities or operations that house children can see payments anywhere from $500 to more than $3,000, according to the rate schedule. The Department of Family and Protective Services has also published the minimum amount of money a family should be reimbursed each day.

  • To view the reimbursement rates in full, click here.

KXAN investigators found these figures to be similar to rates in surrounding states such as New Mexico or Oklahoma, although the levels of care and rate structures differed state to state.

Many families that come to SAFE to foster are unaware of the reimbursements to begin with, so “it’s better than nothing,” Fussell laughed. Still, she said the stipends generally only cover food, clothing and shelter. For example, she explained the basic level of payment for an infant doesn’t even cover diapers or extra formula.

She noted those payments do not generally cover things like counseling or therapy, which many of these children need after trauma from their home-life or from being removed from their homes.

Sen. Menéndez said he’s focused on increasing reimbursements for providers who treat these kids with the most trauma and the highest acuity.

“We need to make sure they have a place to get the services they need to become fully productive and happy members of our society,” he said. “Investing in Texas children is a down payment on the future of Texas.”

State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) told KXAN she was worried about “long-lasting trauma” affecting kids in the system. She sent a letter to the governor in June, asking him to address the foster care capacity crisis as a whole.

Rep. Minjarez said she has heard the state may be considering entering into contracts with other states, such as Oklahoma and New Mexico, to take kids without placement from Texas.

“We started on foster care reform back in the 87th legislative session in order to keep our foster care kids within our community and get them to safe and stable placements,” she said.

Minjarez thinks increased reimbursements is a “start” but thinks much more could be done, and Fussell agrees.

“I don’t think money is what’s going to increase capacity… because people don’t do this for the money,” she said. “The capacity problem, in my opinion, has got more to do with a lack of understanding about trauma.”