January 6, 2006
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Advisory Council met at the John H. Winters Building, Room 125-E, 701 West 51st Street, Austin, Texas. Council Members present were Dr. Ronald Brandon, John Castle, Richard S. Hoffman, Imogene S. Papadopoulos, Linda Bell Robinson, Ommy Strauch. Also present was Commissioner Carey Cockerell and Department staff.
Agenda Item 1 – Call to Order
Call to order by Mr. Hoffman.
Agenda Item 2 – Reading, Correction and Approval of Minutes of October 7, 2005
Mr. Hoffman moved for approval of the minutes, and Ms. Strauch seconded. Approval was unanimous.
Agenda Item 3 – Public Testimony
Connie Barker, of Depelchin Children’s Center, spoke about the potential impact of proposed changes to 40 TAC Chapters 748 and 749 on foster care, especially those providers who foster primary medical needs children, and single foster parents with more than one child in their households.
Ms. Barker also expressed concern regarding the new rules concerning adult-to-child ratios in the homes of foster care providers. Ms. Barker requested the Council retain flexibility in the rules and look at the quality and purpose of the regulations as they’re developed. She thanked the staff for their good work
Andrew Rivera discussed how he has previously testified and made certain allegations before this Council and is awaiting a response from Chairman Hoffman. Mr. Rivera played an audiotape for the Council, recorded in July 2005, on which a child’s and her mother’s voices are heard in a phone conversation. Mr. Rivera alleges that the tape is proof of incidences of domestic violence rendered by the child’s father upon an aunt.
Mr. Rivera then reiterated his prior testimony, noting that none of his allegations regarding his investigation of this incident were taken seriously and that he and his family were also investigated. Mr. Rivera also remarked that when he called the aforementioned father on one occasion to learn the location of the man’s brother, who allegedly is a fugitive because he assaulted Mr. Rivera, he was cursed at and the man used foul language with him. Mr. Rivera then played an audio recording of that phone conversation for the Council. Mr. Rivera concluded his comments by stating that he hopes the Council will have taken steps to resolve his issues by the next Council meeting in April and that if he isn’t satisfied with the Council’s response, he will attend the next Council meeting along with members of the media.
Kerry Fortune, President of Ben Richey Boys Ranch, Abilene, TX, spoke concerning the 40 TAC Chapter 748 proposed revisions and noted that while his organization receives no government funding, the new rules could affect his centers’ personnel and programs. One of Mr. Fortune’s concerns centered around the imposition of drug-testing, which would affect the Ranch’s several house parents, who reside with the boys in order to provide a positive family model, and its volunteer families from the community, on whom the Ranch relies to help with weekend outings and visits with the boys. He remarked that drug testing would serve only to alienate the house parents and volunteer families and would be of great financial consequence to his centers.
Another of Mr. Fortune’s stated concerns is the proposed new requirement that a child-care facility administrator have a college degree in order to become licensed; he stated that a person can’t go to college and receive the training to be a house parent and that training comes by being there with the kids daily.
In closing, Mr. Fortune stated that he appreciates DFPS and its concern for children. However he noted in the case of many private non-profit providers, such as his Ranch, their donors have great concern about how the providers spend their money, and they're sometimes not excited when the government or the state forces the providers to spend money in an area the donors don't agree is worthy and worthwhile.
Judy Foster, a registered nurse who works at Lutheran Social Services, testified regarding the language in the regulations regarding tube-feeding of children and noted that the term, “Manufacturer’s instructions,” should be replaced with, “Physician’s instructions,” because the nutritional needs of each child can be very different from another’s.
Ms. Foster also stated that she has been an adoptive and foster parent for 21 years and that she has four adopted children and two foster children; one of her foster children is wheelchair-bound and has Cerebral Palsy. Ms. Foster is concerned that the four children-to-one adult rule would require her to give up her two foster children, because she cannot always guarantee there will be two adults in her home when all six children are present. Her concern is that many single foster parents will have to give up their good work with children and possibly even their own foster children because they can’t afford to bring in a paid caregiver in order to meet the child-to-adult supervision ratio.
Irene Clements with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) testified regarding the proposed new requirement that a childcare facility license be for no more than 40 contiguous counties, noting that her organization has 17 offices throughout the state and that they are under a statewide contract. Under the new rule, LSS would be required to hold eight licenses and eight separate contracts; the provider would also have to reproduce its hierarchy eight different times, which, because of a system of economy of scale utilized by the organization, has in the past not been necessary. Ms. Clements believes that this new rule would be very detrimental to provider agencies.
Ms. Clements also expressed concern regarding the child-to-adult ratio, noting that LSS serves 1,400 foster children statewide with 550 families and that because of this new standard, her agency would need to find and recruit an additional 112 foster families. She also remarked that the term, “treatment services,” needs to be clearly defined and noted that 60 percent of LSS’ foster children are considered basic care children and most of them receive weekly mental health services. Ms. Clements said she has asked for such a definition to be included in the definitions section of the revisions and to date has not seen it. In closing, Ms. Clements thanked the Licensing staff for listening to and considering her and LSS’ suggestions.
Pamela Sheeler with Child Placement Center, Killeen, TX, testified regarding her concerns with the proposed child-to-adult ratio standard, noting that it would place additional hardship on caregivers, especially single foster parents. Ms. Sheeler also discussed her concerns with the term, “treatment services” and noted that many of her agency’s foster children are considered basic care children but they require and receive medications to improve their behaviors. Because many of the foster children are in weekly or bi-weekly or monthly mental health treatment, she wondered if that fact would impact them.
Ms. Sheeler also stated her concerns regarding abiding by the manufacturer's label when mixing formula for tube-feeding of children. Ms. Sheeler stated that because all children’s nutritional needs are slightly different, we should want to go by the physician's or a dietician's orders and not a manufacturer's directions.
Chairman Hoffman thanked the speakers for their testimony, noting that the Council appreciates their comments and that they help the Council focus on what the issues are with this effort and that it is a work in progress.
Agenda Item 4 - Staff Briefings
4.a. Commissioner’s Report – Commissioner Cockerell
Commissioner Carey Cockerell remarked on how his first year as Commissioner has been an interesting one, and he spent some time reflecting on what he called a very, very busy year and one in which the legislature came through with an unprecedented amount of resources to aid in Agency reform. The Commissioner commented on how impressed he has been with the dedication, commitment and the competency of the executive and program staff.
Commissioner Cockerell discussed Project Renewal and noted that this overall agency reform effort is already reaping rewards for the children and adults who benefit from DFPS services; he also cited projects and initiatives that have progressed this past year.
The Commissioner discussed the development of the transition plan and timeline for outsourcing, as required by Senate Bill 6, and said that a series of public meetings held statewide and a Request for Information have helped develop and move toward this plan for outsourcing.
Commissioner Cockerell reported that in the last legislative session, DFPS received over 2,500 new staff and that since September 1, 2005, more than 400 new staff have been hired; he believes this number to be unprecedented in the history of the agency. A recent DFPS press release announcing the completion of the first round of Basic Skills Development (BSD) training and the introduction of 170 new case workers was picked up by a number of media outlets throughout Texas.
Commissioner Cockerell noted that the medical home and medical passport projects are in progress and that the target date for implementation statewide is January 2007. The Commissioner reported on renewal projects and said that APS has completed 85 percent of their reform measures, noting that CPS is making progress and all initiatives are on schedule.
The Commissioner reported that caseloads for on-going workers have increased, however we are attempting to hire vacant positions, which should ease caseload levels. We are also looking at other solutions to help with this problem.
Commissioner Cockerell informed the Council that he expects this year to be as busy as the last, noting that we’ll be working on outsourcing, hiring, training and licensing standards.
Commissioner Cockerell discussed his tour of Texas, which began last summer, and his plans to continue regional visits. He has fielded questions from staff and informed them that one of our primary goals is to be attentive to their concerns and questions and to acknowledge and be responsive to what they’re doing.
The Commissioner reported on the November 2005 hearing before the House Health and Human Services Committee, which has been charged with following up on the implementation of Senate Bill 6. Commissioner Cockerell noted that testimony was presented regarding our progress to that point and that he is pleased with the positive feedback we received from the committee.
In closing, Commissioner Cockerell thanked the Council and staff for the support and commitment they’ve given the agency. In response to questions, many of which have been difficult, the input provided by both staff and the Council have been invaluable in achieving the great progress made.
Ms. Papadopoulos asked if attorneys and the judiciary are consulted when the Commissioner is touring the various regions of the state. Commissioner Cockerell responded that while we’ve met with some judiciary in each of the regions we’ve visited, he has not met with many attorneys, but he certainly plans on doing so. Commissioner Cockerell also said he has met with advisory committees and advocacy groups in many communities.
Mr. Hoffman inquired about overall turnover rate of staff. Commissioner Cockerell replied that from his reading of the Rider 30 report, the turnover rate among CPS staff and caseworkers was about 24 to 30 percent, and the turnover rate for October and November 2005 was lower than that. The Commissioner noted that while the current turnover rate is higher than is desirable, it is due largely to the fact that the Agency has experienced much change during reform and transformation efforts over the last two or three years.
Dr. Brandon mentioned recent media articles about minorities’ fostering and/or adoption of children. He then inquired about the existence of agency plans or programs intended to help make adoption/fostering easier for minorities. Commissioner Cockerell replied that these disparities, or disproportionalities, regarding adoptions and fostering of minorities have been noted by research during the last year or so and that we have not been silent or inactive on the issue. He noted that we have a new program, entitled “Undoing Racism,” for which two pilot programs, one in Houston/Harris County and one in Dallas/Fort Worth, are currently underway.
Dr. Brandon inquired as to the existence of a freeze on adoptions and/or new agencies being available to start adopting. Commissioner Cockerell replied that there has been no freeze on adoptions. However, maybe this issue arose because the agency for several months did not have any open procurement, so no new agencies were contracted for adoption services. The Commissioner also reported on the recent observance of National Adoption Day. He stated further that the Agency is moving forward with a number of adoption initiatives.
Ms. Papadopoulos inquired about the status of the addendum regarding the issue of grandparents caring for grandchildren who are not in the conservatorship of the Department. Ms. Papadopoulos stated her concern was that the Council be aware that the issue was being pursued and that they should be expecting a response from HHSC.
4.b. Operation PUSH - Joyce James
Joyce James, Assistant Commissioner for Child Protective Services, prefaced her report by updating the Council on the coordinated efforts between Texas and Louisiana regarding the displacement of foster children and families as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Mr. Hoffman inquired if DFPS is being reimbursed for any of our assistance to Louisiana, Ms. James replied that Louisiana foster parents who have made arrangements to live in Texas are being paid by Louisiana.
Ms. James reported on Operation PUSH (Put Us in Safe Homes), CPS’ initiative developed to move children from the foster care system into permanency.
Ms. James noted that as of April 2005, there were 1,834 children in DFPS conservatorship whose parents had lost their parental rights. These children were placed in the system with the intention of finding them permanent placements, but they have not been transitioned to adoption.
Ms. James stated that the large amount of unplaced children was unacceptable and inconsistent with the agency’s vision of putting Children First, Safe and Secure and that this situation prompted serious contemplation at the state office level as to how to remove barriers. Mr. Hoffman inquired about how we might access resources to help move placement cases. Ms. James noted that she called together a meeting with regional directors, program administrators and other CPS staff to brainstorm about removal of these barriers prohibiting these children from enjoying permanency. In addition, Ms. James reported that the message of Operation PUSH has been well received and that CPS staff is proud of the successes. Approximately 1,250 of these children were subsequently adopted.
Ms. James discussed other ongoing efforts on the part of CPS, including the recent reward of a contract to One Church/One Child of North Central Texas, a program that will focus on finding child-specific placements for children from the Houston, Arlington and Austin regions. She noted that this initiative is going to help address some of the concerns that were raised by Dr. Brandon and that were in the media related to disproportionality of African-American children in the foster care system. Additionally, Ms. James said this is a child-specific recruitment contract designed to move the kids who have been waiting the longest in our system.
Ms. James discussed the Adoption Family Network, an Internet program that was designed by a CPS staff member that allows both adoptive workers and adoptive families to enter their approved studies on a web site.
Ms. James also noted that Adoption Family Network together with AdoptUSKids has resulted in the posting of approved home studies by 8,000 hopeful adoptive families, and that CPS is training our adoption coordinators in the field on how to match waiting children to these families.
Ms. James discussed the revitalization of and renewed emphasis on the CHILD initiative (Congregations Helping In Love and Dedication) and reported on the addition of a new faith-based recruiter who has been developing relationships with faith-based organizations and is helping to revitalize the CHILD initiative.
In closing, Ms. James reiterated the pride she has for the Agency and its work general and noted that CPS personnel are holding themselves accountable for ensuring that every effort is made to give children safe, permanent homes.
Chairman Hoffman commended Ms. James and CPS staff for the exceptional job they’ve done in increasing the number of adoptions and stated that we've gotten a lot of help from both the legislature and the courts recently in that regard. Mr. Hoffman asked if she or any CPS personnel have been in contact with anyone from either Rotary of Texas or Rotary International and noted that he attended one of their meetings in Dallas, where a topic of discussion was aiding in adoptions as their annual project for this year. Ms. James responded that she has heard about the local effort. Ms. James stated that she would find out what she could and that CPS is taking advantage of any opportunities to work with groups that want to help us around this effort.
Ms. Robinson asked Ms. James about the success rate of the adoption of older children, and Ms. James replied that we’ve had less success in the past and that is one of the reasons for looking at child-specific recruitment and entering into this contract.
4.c. Vice Chair Election - Rick Hoffman
Chairman Hoffman discussed the HHSC request that the DFPS Council elect a vice chair. Chairman Hoffman queried the Council on whether anyone has any nominations or would like to volunteer for the position. Ms. Papadopoulos nominated Ms. Strauch, and Mr. Castle seconded the nomination. There were no other nominations. Ms. Papadopoulos moved that the election be made by acclamation and Mr. Castle seconded. The motion passed, and Ms. Strauch is to be the new Vice Chair of this Council.
4.d. Strategic Plan - Sue Milam
Chairman Hoffman announced that Judge Faith Johnson, John Castle and Imogen Papadopoulos will comprise the new Strategic Plan Committee and will be working with Deputy Commissioner Sue Milam in developing the plan.
Deputy Commissioner Sue Milam stated that DFPS has been working on the strategic plan with other HHSC agencies and that through the process thus far, seven categories of major issues have been identified, the first being an increased demand for Agency services.
Dr. Milam discussed what has been identified as the second major issue, contracting. She discussed how we’ve seen a major increase in our contracting efforts and realize that in going down the contracting path, we need to make a number of improvements in the ways we contract, manage our contracts, monitor the contractors and in the kinds of requirements that we put in contracts.
Dr. Milam stated that the third critical issue is in the area of workforce recruiting, development and retention. She noted that this is a major concern, and commented on the fact that although the Agency has received many new positions, mostly in CPS, APS and Licensing, recruiting the right personnel to perform these jobs has been a difficult task. Ensuring proper training and retention of these people is also equally difficult.
The fourth major issue of concern is automation and technology. The fifth issue for concern is outsourcing and Dr. Milam remarked on how this is putting our organization through a major cultural shift.
Dr. Milam discussed the sixth major issue of concern, performance management and accountability, noting that while this is addressed somewhat in the contracting that we do, it also includes management of our own processes within the Department. Dr. Milam identified funding as the seventh area of concern and noted that although many of the anticipated cutbacks are at the federal level, local communities are also stretched for funding affecting many people that we serve.
Ms. Strauch commented on how we have in the past-received statistics, demographic and other information from a particular agency. Dr. Milam responded that the Health and Human Services Commission has individuals who do forecasting and look at those kinds of measures and issues. She also noted that HHSC would continue to provide that information and those services would be utilized in our entire strategic planning effort.
Mr. Castle and Dr. Milam briefly discussed the methodology for the strategic plan, and Dr. Milam noted that Senate Bill 6 basically set the parameters for what questions and issues should be addressed. Chairman Hoffman reiterated and confirmed Dr. Milam’s remarks.
Mr. Hoffman queried Dr. Milam as to how many of the 110 new daily referrals have been for APS. Dr. Milam responded that although she doesn’t know the exact number, she could get that information. Commissioner Cockerell informed Mr. Hoffman that APS’ forecasted increase in caseloads was approximately 20 percent, but the reality has been that so far this year, APS has experienced a nearly-40-percent increase in intakes.
Dr. Brandon asked whether the increasing volume of referrals and caseloads can eventually be handled by personnel in some of the 825 new positions. Dr. Milam’s response was that the intention was that new case workers will handle incoming referrals, but the projections that were made for both APS and CPS as to where we want caseloads to be by the end of the biennium took into account those additional case workers, and so she’s still concerned about our being at the proper levels to reduce caseloads by that time.
Chairman Hoffman said that what we're most concerned about with the increase in staff and investigative case workers is how that impacts our removals and the number of children coming into the system needing services. Mr. Hoffman also noted that we have studied other states that have gone through reform initiatives, and have found that there is a consistent significant increase in the number of removals and the number of kids coming into the system.
Ms. Papadopoulos asked Dr. Milam whether this 40-percent increase in intakes that we're seeing includes some of the 60-year-olds, AKA Baby Boomers, beginning to come into the system. Dr. Milam responded that the forecast models included a look ahead at demographics and that this particular population was considered based on census data. Ms. Papadopoulos then inquired if CPS intake begins to decrease, the strategic plan will also include an ability to shift workers from CPS to APS; she also noted that the training in these two programs is currently different. Dr. Milam answered that as we go about identifying and considering issues for the strategic plan that might be a potential solution to consider.
Ms. Strauch requested that the Council get a copy of the approved draft of the strategic plan.
Agenda Item 5 – New Business
5.a, Recommendation to propose rule changes in 40 TAC Chapter 705§705.5101, Training and Education - Jane Norwood
Jane Norwood, Director of the Center for Policy, Innovation and Professional Development, discussed the proposed changes to rule regarding training and education of APS staff. The changes result from Senate Bill 6, which requires that the Executive Commissioner adopt rules to ensure that Adult Protective Services training includes examples of actual cases investigated by the APS staff. Ms. Norwood noted that since the Department currently uses actual cases in the training of APS staff, there will be no fiscal cost to implement these changes, and she stated that the staff recommends that the Council recommend proposal of the rules for publication in The Texas Register.
Mr. Castle moved that the Council recommend for proposal by the Health and Human Services Commission the new rule regarding training of Adult Protective Services staff, as reflected in the Council's January 6, 2006 Agenda Item 5.a., and Dr. Brandon seconded the motion. There was no further discussion, and the motion carried.
5.b.Recommenation to propose rule changes in 40 TAC Chapter 720, 24-Hour Care Licensing; 40 TAC Chapter 748, General Residential Operations, and Residential Treatment Centers; 40 TAC Chapter 749, Child-Placing Agencies, and; 40 TAC Chapter 750, Independent Foster Homes - Diana Spiser
Diana Spiser, Assistant Commissioner for Child Care Licensing, presented the rule changes in 40 TAC Chapters 720,748, 749 and 750 and requested that the Council recommend to Commissioner Cockerell and Executive Commissioner Hawkins that these rules be proposed and published in The Texas Register for public comment.
Ms. Strauch moved that the Council recommend for proposal by the HHSC the repeal of Chapter 720, 24-Hour Care Licensing, and a new Chapter 748, General Residential Operations and Residential Treatment Centers; 749, Child-Placing Agencies, and; 750, Independent Foster Homes, as reflected in the January 6, 2006 Agenda Item 5.b. Mr. Castle seconded the motion.
Ms. Papadopoulos asked Ms. Spiser to review the proposed changes. After further discussion between Ms. Papadopoulos and Ms. Spiser regarding the specifics of the rule changes, Ms. Spiser stated that she anticipates we will continue to make changes to the proposed standards throughout this period, noting this has been our common practice in the development of minimum standards. Ms. Spiser also stated that she would be providing an update regarding these rule changes.
During further discussion, Ms. Spiser explained that after approval by the Council, the changes for publication will go to Commissioner Hawkins in a couple of weeks and that she anticipates the public comment period to be between March 17 and April 17; she also noted that the changes must be adopted within 180 days of publication and that she’ll bring to the Council in July the comments and then there'll be time for us to consider them before we recommend adoption.
Chairman Hoffman said that some people may perceive that their comments aren’t being heard and/or considered and suggested that Ms. Spiser come back to the Council in April and July and report on the main questions and issues. There was no further discussion, and the motion carried.
Agenda Item 6 – Old Business
6.a. Recommendation to adopt rules in 40 TAC Chapter 720, 24-Hour Care Licensing, Chapter 745, Licensing; Chapter 746, Minimum Standards for Child Care Centers, and; Chapter 747, Minimum Standards for Child Care Homes - Diana Spiser
Ms. Spiser explained to the Council that this agenda item is for the adoption of proposed rules to implement legislation passed during the 79th Legislature and to provide necessary clarification to existing rules, as required by House Bill 798, House Bill 877, Senate Bill 6, Senate Bill 325 and Senate Bill 565. All public comments received have been addressed and are listed in the Council packets. Ms. Spiser asked the Council to recommend adoption of the rules, with the minor changes as indicated in the Council meeting packets, to be effective March 1, 2006.
Ms. Papadopoulos moved that the Council recommend for adoption by HHSC the new and amended rules regarding the licensing program as reflected in the Council's January 6, 2006 Agenda Item 6.a. Mr. Castle seconded the motion.
Ms. Strauch inquired as to what the most significant comments and changes were from the last time the Council saw these, and Ms. Spiser replied that they were minor and gave a brief explanation. There was no further discussion, and the motion carried.
Agenda Item 7 – Adjourn
Chairman Hoffman adjourned the meeting at 11:20am.