AUSTIN (Nexstar)— The Texas foster care system took the spotlight Tuesday as House Republicans pounced on another opportunity to highlight special session agenda items that may fall by the wayside if Democrats don’t return to the Capitol and restore the quorum they broke last week.
The Texas House Republican Caucus hosted child welfare organizations and foster care providers on Tuesday to discuss the need for additional state funding that has been made available to budget writers.
“DFPS should not be parents. Kids should not be growing up in foster care,” Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Jamie Masters told lawmakers. “That is not what foster care was created for.”
State lawmakers have a plan to add $91 million to help tackle a backlog in cases, hire more case workers and keep kids from sleeping in state office buildings.
According to the Texas House Republican Caucus, more than 400 kids slept in unlicensed facilities in the month of June.
“We have billions of dollars of additional funding, that if we can get enough Democrats here to meet, we can put that money to as best possible use, one of those uses is going to be benefiting these children,” State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, who chairs the caucus, said during a Tuesday press conference.
House Democrats said foster care funding is critically important, but they criticized Republicans for failing to pass the reforms during the 140-day regular legislative session earlier this year.
“Foster care is a critical issue,” State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio noted during a question-and-answer session from Capitol Hill. “Bringing those additional resources to those that are taking care of our foster care children, also being able to make sure there’s proper staffing to maintain in the foster care facilities.”
Foster care providers highlighted a 40% staffing turnover, citing increased scrutiny and difficult working conditions. With the additional state funding, they say, they’ll be able to improve employee retention and decrease demand on current staff.
“We always focus on the children, but they have a 40% turnover,” Murphy explained after the meeting. “And so trying to hire and keep people working in very difficult conditions with challenging kids was one takeaway for me.”