Texas has 90 days to plan changes to foster care mental health access

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — In federal court Tuesday, Texas Judge Janis Graham Jack demanded faster action from the state agencies overseeing Texas’ foster care system for swifter action to address the current crisis.

On Monday, a panel of three independent, national experts submitted their findings to the court for weak spots in the state’s foster care system. This came after Texas saw its Children Without Placement (CWOP) doubled from January to September 2021.

“They’re in essentially an unlicensed location, either a state office and some places, or hotels or duplexes or motels,” Myko Gedutis with the Texas State Employees Union said Tuesday, explaining the caseworkers in charge of these children are already overworked.

The reports filed ahead of Tuesday’s hearing also found nearly 40% of the state’s caseworkers are already above the agency’s 18-child limit, and that’s before taking on the influx of CWOP.

“Shifts from four hours to eight hours overnight, asking folks to basically do direct care of children who need a lot of support a lot of services that they aren’t getting,” Gedutis said. “Workers who have never been trained to, on de-escalation techniques that have been trained on restraints are now responsible for the 24/7 care of children, with many of them have very high needs of therapeutic needs, behavioral needs that are going untreated.”

The panel of experts said part of the solution will be establishing more accessible mental health resources to keep kids out of the system to begin with, and to keep them from cycling within the system.

“Our kids without placement, about 35% of them are kids who entered foster care because they had an unmet mental health challenge,” Kate Murphy, the senior policy associate for child protection at Texans Care for Children, said Tuesday.

Jack listened to the panel’s recommendations, and set a 90-day deadline for the two state agencies to work with the experts to establish a statewide system for better mental healthcare access for those involved with the foster care system.

“It is essential for making sure that foster families and kinship caregivers have the support that they need to take care of kids who are experiencing mental health trauma or challenges after they’ve experienced trauma,” Murphy said.

Murphy said she was optimistic hearing DFPS and HHSC agree to the deadlines, and hopes state leadership gets behind the recommendations, too.

“I was encouraged to hear both agency heads say that they are willing and wanting to move forward with these recommendations,” Murphy said.

The state also agreed to another 90-day deadline to get foster children placed out-of-state back to Texas. Currently, there are about 2,000 Texas children in other states’ facilities.

Written by Maggie Glynn

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