Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
Advisory Council Meeting
January 9, 2009
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Advisory Council met in Public Hearing Room 125-E of the John H. Winters Building, 701 West 51st Street, Austin, Texas. Council Members present were Chair Ommy Strauch, Gigi Edwards Bryant, Paul Furukawa, Faith Johnson, and Linda Bell Robinson.
Also present was Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein and Department staff.
Not present were Vice Chair Imogen Papadopoulos, Debbie Epperson, Richard Hoffman, and Mamie Salazar-Harper.
Agenda Item 1 – Call to Order
Call to order by Chair Ommy Strauch at 9:03 a.m.
Agenda Item 2 – Reading, Correction and Approval of Minutes of October 17, 2008
Ms. Bryant moved adoption of the minutes as printed, and Dr. Furukawa provided a second. The minutes needed no corrections and were approved as distributed.
Agenda Item 3 – Public Testimony
Mr. Michael Johnson gave public testimony regarding his great niece and nephew who were voluntarily placed with Mr. Johnson and his wife last August. The children’s mother changed her mind and made arrangements for another kinship placement instead. The mother voluntarily placed the children due to severe burns to Mr. Johnson’s great niece. His great nephew, age 6 months at the time, was also deficient in weight and fine motor skills. Both children had been neglected. Mr. Johnson stated he is speaking to the Council because he and his wife are unhappy with the way this case was handled. Additionally, they have requested a review with the Office of Consumer Affairs.
After CPS got involved, the mother voluntarily placed her children with relatives. There was not court involvement; therefore, an attorney ad litem was not assigned to the case. The Johnsons would have preferred to have the placement court ordered so that the mother could not move the children to another kinship placement. The Johnsons also believe that having an attorney ad litem assigned to the case would have ensured better communication regarding the safety and health of the children.
Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein assured Mr. Johnson that DFPS and the Council would thoroughly read the materials he provided, and thanked him and his wife for all they did for the children while they were in the Johnsons’ care.
Kathleen Nickels testified as a follow-up from the July Council Meeting where she spoke about her efforts to adopt her son’s infant half sibling. Initially, she and her husband were not considered as adoptive parents for their son’s sibling. Ms. Nickels is happy to report that since her last public testimony, she was able to find DFPS employees who would work with her. She and her husband adopted this second child November 5, after a four-day hearing. Ms. Nickels has been pleased and surprised with the follow-up and credibility of senior CPS management in Region 3. She found them to be straightforward and supportive. Those who testified were impressive, and the Office of Consumer Affairs was responsive and attentive.
Ms. Nickels reports that her earlier attempts to work with CPS to adopt this child defied logic and reason. She states that through luck and an anonymous tip, she and her attorney discovered some underhanded dealings on behalf of some local CPS employees and the child’s foster family in Corsicana. Ms. Nickels has emails stating the CPS regional attorney’s intent was to stall court proceedings by insisting on counseling for Ms. Nickels’ son. Ms. Nickels alleges the attorney was stalling because she had no legal reason to oppose the Nickels’ petition to adopt. By stalling for a month, the foster family was given time to file for an intervention.
Ms. Nickels believes her experience was not an example of a lack of training, experience, or resources, but rather an attempt to keep this child with his foster family. Ms. Nickels alleges the trial had to be postponed because they could not find enough jurors who were not biased against CPS. ** An expert, hired by CPS, was given HIPAA-protected information about the Nickels’ son without their permission. The CPS regional and local staff’s testimonies conflicted. Ms. Nickels has requested an investigation into the handling of her case. Although the Nickels’ were eventually able to adopt the second child, Ms. Nickels fears that other families with fewer resources will not be as fortunate.
Agenda Item 4 - Agency Briefings
4.a. Supreme Court Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth & Families – Tina
Amberboy, Executive Director
In 2004, the Pew Charitable Trust established a commission on foster care called the Pew Commission on Foster Care, which was headed by Congressional leaders and national child welfare experts who studied the foster care system nationwide and made two recommendations. One recommendation was to reform federal finance for foster care. The second was to strengthen courts by improving judicial leadership.
The commission presented its findings at the first National Judicial Leadership on Child Welfare Conference held in Minnesota in 2005. Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O’Neill was in attendance. During the next two years, she set about doing the due diligence needed to establish the judicial commission which was ultimately formed in 2007 by the Supreme Court. Commissioner Heiligenstein was part of this effort. The commission works for the Texas Supreme Court, is housed at the Supreme Court and is chaired by a justice, currently Justice O’Neill. The commission primarily focuses on improving court processes for handling child abuse and neglect cases.
Currently there are 19 commissioners; including Executive Commissioner Hawkins and Deputy Commissioner James. Five district judges, the vice president of Meadows Foundation, legislators, attorneys, and representatives from the Governor’s office complete the commission. Committees oversee federal grants which come through the court improvement program. There is a 30+ member collaborative council which advises staff and the commission on such issues as: adoption, substance abuse, youth, immigration, and mental health; and works with community partners including: the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Texans Care for Children, and Tex Protects. Five staff members support the commission. The commission receives a federal grant from the Administration of Children and Families to aid in funding of the court improvement program.
The commission’s mission is to: strengthen courts that hear cases for children, youth and families; making them stronger through education, improving the technology used to handle their cases; employing best judicial practices; and collaborating with child welfare agencies, local stakeholders, and local CPS offices. Judges are encouraged to engage in activities to strengthen the process in their courts.
The commission has a strategic plan which includes implementation of the following five issues through projects and grant funds: promoting judicial leadership; identifying and promoting best practices; improving awareness of the need for stronger courts at the local level, the state level and the legislature; improving legal representation for children, parents and the department; and promoting accountability, includinggiving courts tools to collect data and measure outcomes.
Executive Director Amberboy provided the Council a list of staff-directed projects and activities from the past year. Two examples of improvements which might not have come about had the commission not been formed include: a pilot project between CPS and the Workforce Commission to connect parents with job training; and a work group to study dually-managed youth (children who are in foster care but are also in a TYC facility). This work group is responsible for addressing confusion about which agency is responsible for meeting the needs of these children. Work group members will go to Washington to look at a model of cross-systems management in that state with the hope of duplicating it here in Texas.
The commission has awarded grants for: Texas CASA, National Adoption Day, the Partnership for Family Recovery, the Foster Youth Justice Project (which formed a hotline for kids who do not have an attorney and want to know their legal rights), and drug court related programs like Austin Recovery and the Tarrant County Challenge. Ms. Amberboy reported that the Travis County public defender’s office has a model to evaluate efficiency and outcomes for families when staff only represents the primary parent; and the same thing for children, similar to what the children’s rights clinic does at UT. The office using the evaluative model is staffed by a supervising attorney, junior attorneys, and support staff.
Three grants totaling $2 million are separated into three categories. The first category is for a basic grant that funds many of the programs. The second is for technology; a case management tracking tool is under development to assist courts in staying abreast of developments with a particular case or particular child. The third category is a training grant; much of which goes to the Texas Center for the Judiciary to educate judges about child abuse/neglect and domestic violence. $400,000 went to educate judges last year.
4.b. Parental Advisory Committee Report and Recommendations – John Castle, Chair
The Parental Advisory Committee (PAC) was created by Senate Bill 6 in the 79th Legislative session. The PAC is authorized to look at policies and activities affecting parents and the department during the investigation phase of CPS’s work with families. The PAC’s five committee members were appointed by the governor. The committee’s work began in the fall of 2006, with meetings with parents, case workers, and other interested parties. Each committee member conducted forums in their individual cities with: parents who had been involved in the system, and with caseworkers. All information gathered from the forums has been incorporated into the PAC’s findings and recommendations which Mr. Castle respectfully submits to the Council.
In May 2007, a preliminary report was issued to Commissioner Cockerell noting the need for more case workers, particularly in conservatorship and family-based safety services. The Family Group Decision Making model, expanded to Investigations in 2007, implemented the family team meeting model, thus ensuring that extended family members are involved in the process of making decisions for children and parents.
The PAC found that parents who had good communication with their caseworkers seemed to have better outcomes; parents felt better about their interactions when they had open and frequent communication with their workers and when they had input into their service plans. During forums, parents also expressed feeling anxious when they were being investigated by CPS, even when they had frequent contact with their case worker. PAC recommends that parents’ input and resource needs be taken into consideration during development of the service plans and frequent contact between the family and caseworker be maintained. Mr. Castle also suggested that parents could benefit from mentoring or support by others who have already been through the CPS system.
The committee is making 13 recommendations, a complete list of which is included in the Council’s packets. I will not go over all of the recommendations, but do want to highlight some of them. One recommendation is to double the use of the family team meetings instigated in October 2007. Committee members agree that the outcome for family and children is improved when extended family is involved in this way. Fewer than 20 percent of investigations currently use the family team model; PAC recommends this number be doubled in the next biennium.
The PAC’s second recommendation is to continue to encourage caseworkers to take into account the logistical needs, whether work-related, transporation-related or otherwise, as they design service plans for the family.
Fourth, the PAC recommends caseworkers and supervisors be encouraged to return telephone calls within 72 hours, particularly calls from parents.
Sixth, the PAC recommends that information about Parent Collaboration Groups be included in the Parents’ Guide to a Child Protective Services Investigation” or when caseworkers hand out the guide to parents, they should also give parents information about Parent Collaboration Groups in an effort to try to connect them with other parents who have been through the CPS process.
Recommendation eight is to continue to encourage involvement of parents, who have had previous involvement with CPS, through the Parent Collaboration Groups and in caseworker training sessions.
Number nine is to research resources to connect parents currently going through the investigation phase with parents who have already been through an investigation; to offer encouragement and to help answer questions, not in lieu of the caseworker but as an additional form of support.
Number ten is to encourage caseworkers to be knowledgeable of current resources available in their communities, including resources for: alcohol and drug abuse, domestic abuse and mental health services.
Recommendation twelve concerns the Office of Consumer Affairs, headed by Jose Martinez. With a staff of four specialists, plus himself and an administrative assistant, the OCA handles 17,000 calls per year. The PAC recommends hiring an additional specialist to enable investigations of complaints to dig deeper into the case and perhaps complete investigations more quickly.
Recommendation thirteen is to have a Parent Specialist in each region to be the voice of parents in that specific region. Each region is encouraged to find funds to hire a Parent Specialist. Currently there is one Parent Program Specialist at the state level.
Chair Strauch acknowledged the Parent Advisory Committee’s work, thanked Mr. Castle for the presentation and stated that she likes the way that PAC has organized their recommendations into categories. Commissioner Heiligenstein also thanked Mr. Castle for his involvement with PAC, his previous role as a Council member, and for his many years of service.
4.c. 2020: A Vision for America’s Children – Carolyne Rodriguez, Casey Family
Programs; Joyce James, Deputy Commissioner
Deputy Commissioner James publicly acknowledged Casey Family Programs and its director of strategic consulting for Texas, Carolyne Rodriguez for supporting CPS through reform efforts. The partnership between CPS and Casey Family Programs has been in existence since 2003, and both sides are pleased with the progress that CPS has made in terms of improvements and outcomes for children, youth and families. Casey Family Programs has supported the department through technical assistance, training, and by bringing in national organizations that have the expertise necessary to help in the transformation of the Texas system. Ms. James introduced Ms. Rodriguez.
Ms. Rodriguez stated that the shared vision of CPS and Casey Family Programs is defined by a mutual desire for improved outcomes. Their work is very much data-driven and links to the outcomes and improvements which have been identified as accountability measures for CPS and for Casey’s 2020 goals. Ms. Rodriguez stated that when Ms. James came to state office as Assistant Commissioner for CPS, the vision expanded to include: technical assistance in the area of the family-centered practice model, implementation of family group decision making, family team meetings, family group conferences, and circles of support for youth.
Casey Program’s 2020 vision is to develop a plan to reduce foster care by 50 percent nationally by the year 2020, and improve well-being outcomes involving employment, education, and mental health. At the core of Casey’s work are data-driven outcomes. The department is now able to pull data by race and ethnicity to understand what is going on with youth and families. Since Texas was one of the first states to study disproportionality in this way, this state has become a role model for other states. Texas has also crafted a community engagement model that involves stakeholders in authentic partnerships. In addition, the department’s focus is on leadership development, not just at the commissioner level, but also for leaders at the regional level and in state office.
Casey’s work is driven by results and accountability. Each program supported by Casey is evaluated and measured. Disproportionality work is evaluated by looking at various systemic factors, case work practice factors, and community factors that bring to bear on this issue. Casey has committed to invest in evaluation and research to ensure the results brought forward are replicable and sustainable across different communities and other state jurisdictions.
Casey has taken Senate Bill 6, the program improvement plan for CPS, and Casey’s 2020 vision and cross-walked these documents to make sure that Casey’s work is aligned. For disproportionality research, the department studied enforcement actions and saw four areas to support: cultural competency training, more effective outreach and recruitment of foster parents, improved community partnering, and leadership development.
The American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) works with CPS managers and leaders at state and regional levels to apply a simple continuous improvement model for management; the model focuses on staff retention and reduction of turnover. Continuity of staff is critical to Casey’s plan to reduce the number of children in foster care. Ms. Rodriguez stated the department’s work with APHSA will impact all stages of CPS service.
Work force development and training from APHSA focuses on Family Group Decision Making, development of a curriculum specific to Texas, training on kinship care practice, and best practice training and application around chronic neglect. APHSA also addresses policy improvement and business process mapping for processes currently in place.
Many of CPS’ systems improvement accomplishments are attributed to CPS’ leadership consistency over the past four or five years. CPS has benefited from Ms. James’ presence and a strong regional and state office leadership team. The department’s commitment to leadership development is evident. In addition, the department is committed to ensuring that internal practices are compatible with the family center practice model; preparing kids to live successfully in their own communities, in their own families (family being defined in a variety of ways); and ensuring that data drives strategies- not simply a program that seems good, but one that is grounded in real data.
Casey Family Programs and the Texas Workforce Commission are both investing in the expansion of youth centers, to have one or more in each region, so that young people have a place to go to get their needs met. The centers use a database that tracks the kinds of services requested by young people to have a better sense of what is needed and what is working, and the demographics of youth utilizing the centers. This data is used for evaluating program effectiveness.
Ms. Rodriguez stated the work happening in CPS can be implemented in other areas of DFPS. Responsibility for implementation could reside in the leadership development area and in the training area. The work is positioned for cross-systems engagement to know what systems improvement is and how to go about attaining it.
As previously mentioned, foster care reduction is the biggest goal of Casey’s 2020 vision. There will be times when a steep reduction in foster care will not be sustainable because of factors which impact it. However, Casey will focus on decreasing entries into foster care, increasing exits, and shortening length of stays; three big indicators for foster care reduction, while remaining cognizant that constant reduction is not a reasonable expectation. We must weigh safety, population factors, reasons why children come into care, and how we can best support successful exits.
The future holds opportunities for engaging private agencies and they are part of an intensive conservatorship-focused project for youth in foster care. Private agencies want the opportunity to be part of projects that focus on youth who are in permanent conservatorship without termination. They want to know what they can do to effectively create permanency for young people.
4.d. Commissioner’s Report, Including Agency Administrative Update, Legislative Session
Update, and Major Program Initiatives – Anne Heiligenstein
Commissioner Heiligenstein thanked all of the Council members for their commitment and support of the department and stated it is her great privilege to have been given this opportunity to work with them. She appreciates their time and talent in guiding the agency to ensure provision of the best services possible for children, families and vulnerable adults. It is a great honor for her to have been selected by Commissioner Albert Hawkins to assume the job of commissioner. She has worked with the DFPS programs over the years, investing her heart and soul throughout over 30 years of service.
The Texas legislature has made extraordinary investments in Child Protective and Adult Protective Services and in the Child Care Licensing programs. The commissioner congratulated the staff and Commissioner Cockerell on achievements in these areas. She expressed appreciation for Tina Amberboy and Justice O’Neal for “stepping up to the plate” and making foster care children and other children throughout the state a very high priority. She mentioned John Castle and the Parental Advisory Committee as an example of the great work being done, and also Carolyne Rodriguez for giving decades of service, both as a former employee of CPS and now in leading and directing Casey Foundation’s efforts in Texas. She acknowledged Dr. Sue Milam and Jeannie Cole for their hard work and efforts over the years. She thanked Joyce James for her willingness to step up and accept yet another very tough assignment as Deputy Commissioner. She gave special appreciation to Diana Spiser, who is retiring after many years with the agency, wishing her all the best and extending heart-felt thanks for her work for children throughout her years of service to the State of Texas.
Commissioner Heiligenstein reported the department still has key leadership positions to fill, such as Assistant Commissioner for Purchased Client Services (PCS) and Licensing, as well as Child Protective Services. She will consult with the Council during this process to ensure that we have a team on board to work through the legislative session and beyond. She acknowledged the Council’s work with Commissioner Cockerell and staff on the Legislative Appropriations Request and stated it will be a very challenging session. Texas is one of only nine states that is not facing a revenue deficit. The rate of increase will decline and that will affect the Comptroller’s forecast in terms of revenue available for critical programs such as the ones at DFPS, and many other things that legislators struggle with, from schools to roads to protecting society and all of the other challenges that they have. The Commissioner assured that she and department leaders will work to make the best case to the legislature, to continue to strengthen and enhance the services provided to children and families and vulnerable adults.
There will be several thousand bills introduced; already 856 pieces of legislation have been filed. Jennifer and Katy and their folks are already tracking approximately 105 bills. Throughout the session, we will keep the Council informed of what is happening. There will be some significant leadership changes; we look forward to working with legislators and to developing a strong working relationship with presumed Speaker Strauss and his team.
President Bush signed federal legislation which will allow the department to strengthen what we can do for children who not only come into care, but also for children who can instead be diverted from foster care and placed with family members. This is an important change; it is one of the items that will be addressed as an exceptional item to the Legislative Appropriations Request. Cindy Brown and her team are doing a fantastic job working on all of the moving components of that legislation. Commissioner Heiligenstein also stated David Heine, who has done excellent work, has retired. His time, talent and knowledge will be missed.
The department will be going to the legislature to request the state’s share of costing of the programs to have the ability to financially support relative families through guardianship payments, including assistance with court costs for guardianship to be transferred to a relative. If funds are available, the program will provide economic support so that grandparents and others can proceed with court to obtain legal guardianship of children. Other items include continuing foster care maintenance payments for youth up to age 21, and guardianship payments for relatives who accept children after the age of 16. Further items include support for the adoption of children. There are two critical items in terms of the appropriations request: to increase reimbursement rates for foster care, and to increase salaries by 10 percent across the board for direct delivery staff.
Commissioner Heiligenstein reported on the department’s work with the federal government on the Child and Family Service Review (CFSR), the performance standards for the children CPS works with both in foster care and in their own homes. Good news is that the federal government has reimbursed the four million dollars the department paid for not meeting one CFSR standard.
The commissioner also reported on the Survey of Organizational Excellence (SOE) plan and the challenge to determine how better to recruit and retain staff, encouraging the Council to read the SOE plan information provided. She reported on the substantial redesign of the abuse and neglect website to make it easier to report abuse and neglect, particularly for those who report often, such as pediatricians or school professionals.
4.e. Chair’s Report on Council Members’ Activities – Ommy Strauch
Chair Strauch reported on the HHS All Councils Conference, for which members of all of the Councils under the HHSC umbrella came together for training and information sharing in November. Conference participants heard from people from the governor’s office, the Speaker’s office, and the legislative budget office about what to expect during the upcoming session. Ms. Papadopoulos was unable to attend the All Councils Conference as she was presenting CLE training for the legal needs of grandparent and kinship care folks in Houston, which was sponsored by the South Texas College of Law. Chair Strauch was encouraged by the number of attorneys who offered to work pro bono to assist kinship placements while at the CLE training. Additional Council activities are available in the Council’s packets. A list of upcoming events is also included. Chair Strauch invited Council members to look at the list for opportunities to participate. She also thanked the Council members for their work last quarter.
Agenda Item 5 – New Business
5.a. Recommendation to propose rule changes in 40 TAC, Chapter 746, Minimum Standards for Child-Care Centers concerning the director’s qualifications and the age range of children in child-care centers* – Diana Spiser, CCL
Ms. Spiser thanked everyone for the opportunity to present and thanked the Council and administration for the many, many years she has been privileged to work for the department to serve the children of Texas. She presented two areas that needed rule changes which are technical clarifications of current rules. The first rule, 746.1017, replaces the current graphic that is in the Texas Administrative Code publication. The current graphic does not relate to this rule; the wrong chart was placed with the rule, so this change will simply correct the printing mistake. The chart and the rule are correct in all of the department’s publications and the department has been enforcing this rule. The second group of rules: 746.1601 and 1609, are charts that indicate how many children one caregiver may supervise, and classroom ratios for daycare centers. These two charts include children through the age of 12 years. The statute allows providers to care for children through the age of 13, so the proposal is to make the small technical change to these two charts to include age 13.
Ms. Spiser requested that the Council recommend to Commissioner Heiligenstein and Executive Commissioner Hawkins that these rules be proposed and published in the Texas Register for public comment.
Judge Johnson moved that the council recommend for proposal by the Health and
Human Services Commission the amendments to Rule 746.1017, 746.1601, 746.1609 concerning minimum standards in childcare centers as reflected in the Council’s January 9, 2009 agenda item 5.a. Ms. Bryant provided a second. With no further discussion, the motion carried.
Agenda Item 6 – Adjourn*
Chair Strauch adjourned the meeting at 10:52 a.m.
* Denotes Action Item
** Ms. Nickels has requested this sentence be changed to: “Ms. Nickels alleges that a trial, unrelated to her case, had to be postponed because they could not find enough jurors who were not biased against CPS”. The Council will be asked to approve this correction to the January Council Minutes at the next DFPS Council Meeting.