Texas agencies request $75 million to cover costs from foster care lawsuit

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two state agencies in charge of the foster care system in Texas have requested a combined $75 million to cover costs associated with a decade-old federal lawsuit.

A federal judge warned state officials in September that they could again be held in contempt of court if reforms—largely concerning oversight of residential foster care facilities and abuse investigations—weren’t implemented.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services presented a request to the Legislative Budget Board on Thursday for $38 million in Fiscal Years 2022-23 to comply with the lawsuit. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which is also named in the lawsuit, requested $37 million to cover costs over the same period.

Kate Murphy, a senior child welfare policy associate for Texans Care for Children, an advocacy organization, said those funds will be used mostly for legal and administrative costs.

“It really isn’t going to cover some of what’s needed, some of the changes that are needed, to make sure that things are safer and better for kids,” Murphy said.

In 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld half of the mandates made by a U.S. District Court Judge, which required foster care homes with more than six kids to have 24-hour supervision.

In the DFPS budget request, the agency said it made substantial efforts to implement the orders, including supervision requirements, but that the Court Monitor report issued in June found that the state was still not compliant.

“I don’t think people understand exactly how bad things are,” said Caroline Roberts, a staff attorney for the advocacy organization Children at Risk. “In the first Monitor’s report, for instance, three children in DFPS custody died just between February and May of 2020.”

State agencies are beginning to jockey for funds ahead of the next legislative session beginning in January. That’s when lawmakers will form the biennial budget. Facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit caused by the coronavirus pandemic, state departments are already bracing for cuts.

Murphy said the state has a unique opportunity to improve preventative and intervention services, and satisfy some requirements of the lawsuit, by taking advantage of a federal match under the Families First Prevention Services Act.

As part of the FFPSA, the federal government will provide a 50% match to qualifying community-based care services. The DFPS identified the initiative under its exceptional item requests, basically a wish list for the state legislature, but did not provide a dollar amount.

“I think the biggest budget question facing the Texas child welfare system right now is actually how we’re going to implement the Families First Prevention Services Act,” Murphy said.

A hearing is expected soon when a federal judge will again determine if the state is not compliant with the court’s orders.

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