2011 DFPS Annual Report - Child Protective Services
"I tell people older kids need love too."
Leah Garcia, adopted at age 17, never gave up hope she would find her "forever family" [Read more]
The responsibilities of Child Protective Services are to:
- Conduct civil investigations of reports of child abuse and neglect.
- Protect children from abuse and neglect.
- Promote the safety, integrity, and stability of families.
- Provide permanent homes or living arrangements for children who cannot safely remain with their families.
2011 Accomplishments and Initiatives
Child and Family Services Review
The Child and Family Services Review is used to measure and improve state child welfare systems and is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The review monitors how states comply with federal requirements for child protection, foster care, adoption, family preservation and family support, and independent living services. This includes an analysis of statewide data, a statewide assessment, an onsite review, and a program improvement plan period. Each review evaluates seven outcomes involving child safety, permanency, and well-being. DFPS completed its last review in March 2008 and received a final federal report in March 2009. DFPS developed a program improvement plan that was federally approved and took effect on April 1, 2010 and will end March 31, 2013.
The plan includes these objectives:
- Strengthen critical decision-making skills, particularly involving safety.
- Enhance the capacity to place children in foster care in appropriate homes or settings closer to their families and communities.
- Remove barriers to finding permanent homes for children, especially when they remain in state care but parental rights are not terminated.
- Strengthen practices for family-based safety services (in-home services).
Foster Care Redesign
Since January 2010, DFPS has been working on an initiative to improve outcomes for children and youth living in foster care. The official name is "Improving Child/Youth Placement Outcomes: A System Redesign" but it is that is commonly known as Foster Care Redesign. The goal of the project is to create ongoing, community-based placements that will meet the needs of children and youth in the least restrictive settings.
The project has been guided by the Public Private Partnership, which is composed of 26 representatives including foster youth alumni, the judiciary, providers, trade associations, advocates, and DFPS staff. The partnership got input from many stakeholders, evaluated foster care models in other states, and analyzed Texas data. The partnership recommended a new foster care model to the DFPS Commissioner in December 2010. The proposed changes included how DFPS procures, contracts, and pays for foster care and other services for children in state care and their families.
DFPS endorsed the recommendations and the 82nd Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 218, directing the department to put the new foster care model in place. In August 2011, DFPS issued a request for proposals for implementing the first stage of Foster Care Redesign in two designated areas of the state. DFPS intends to award contracts for those areas in early 2012.
For more information on the Foster Care Redesign model and status of implementation, please visit the Foster Care Redesign webpage.
Fostering Connections Act
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 promotes finding permanent homes (permanency) for children and youth. The act emphasizes adoption, care by relatives, and transition services for young adults who have aged out of care. One result was the start of the Permanency Care Assistance program in FY 2011. This is a new option for youth who would otherwise grow up in foster care because going home or being adopted are not viable options. In FY 2011, the legal custody of 204 children had been transferred from DFPS to relatives or close family friends who receive monthly financial support. More information about Fostering Connections is available on the DFPS public website.
Enhanced Family Centered Safety Decision Making
Child safety remains a priority as CPS continues to enhance its family-centered approach in delivering services, usually to families with their children still at home or temporarily staying with relatives.
The department's goal is to help its staff make sound safety decisions for children. This multi-year, quality improvement initiative will help staff:
- Better identify when children are safe or unsafe.
- Better understand what family changes must occur to keep children safe and match them with the right services.
- Better understand safety as it relates to permanent homes.
- Build a culture that supports families.
In FY 2011, CPS expanded training to more staff and focused on clarifying the difference between safety and risk; protective capacities; and safety plans vs. family plans. The Texas Children's Justice Act Project also gave DFPS a grant to train staff on the importance of collecting sufficient information before making decisions about a family.
CPS has been striving since 2004 to reduce the disproportionate representation of African-American and Native-American children in the child welfare system. In FY 2011, each DFPS region had at least one dedicated staff member and there were 14 regional advisory committees promoting collaborative partnerships to address disproportionality. This initiative promotes a cultural shift within DFPS and partnerships with other entities that affect the lives of children and families. Many view Texas as a national model in addressing this issue. While it is a society-wide issue, DFPS remains committed to helping eliminate disparities for all children and families.
CPS made concerted efforts in FY 2011 to more effectively engage fathers in the child welfare system. Since 2009, CPS has had a Fatherhood Initiative and a dedicated position to help increase permanent living solutions for children in foster care and encourage fathers or the paternal family members to be engaged in their children's well-being. The initiative includes other organizations such as the American Humane Association, Office of the Attorney General, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Texas Center for the Judiciary, Supreme Court Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth, and Families, National Fatherhood Initiative, and the North Texas Fatherhood Initiative.
Public Awareness to Decrease Accidental Child Deaths
In recent years, CPS collaborated with other DFPS programs and Health and Human Services agencies to increase public awareness of three causes of accidental child deaths: water fatalities, hyperthermia, and co-sleeping.
An average of 81 children drowned each year since DFPS began tracking these deaths in 2005. DFPS identified 76 water fatalities in 2005, 70 in 2006, 63 in 2007, 82 in 2008, 113 in 2009 and 84 in 2010, and 79 in 2011 as of August 31, 2011. Texas led the nation in hyperthermia (hot car) deaths with 6 in 2011. In FY 2011, CPS worked with Child Care Licensing on its annual "See and Save" public awareness campaign on preventing drowning and hot car deaths (www.seeandsave.org).
In FY 2011, CPS investigated 164 child deaths that involved a child sleeping with an adult or older child. This is a decline from the 178 co-sleeping fatalities in FY 2010. In FY 2011, DFPS ran TV and Radio spots, engaged both social media and the news media to increase the public's awareness of safe sleep practices for infants an the risks of co-sleeping. In FY 2011, all CPS caseworkers and supervisors completed an interactive web-based training called "Safe Sleep 360" that was developed in tandem with the Texas Department of State Health Services. A safe sleep training curriculum is available to the public at www.ItsUpToYou.org. This resource was created for anyone who works with parents, grandparents, or caregivers of infants.
Abuse and Neglect Fatalities
It is a heart-breaking tragedy whenever a child dies because of abuse or neglect, and CPS has developed both internal and external mechanisms to review these fatalities. Citizen review teams, child fatality review teams, CPS child safety specialists, regional CPS child death review committees, and the state child safety review committee all review child deaths. While each entity reviews child deaths for unique purposes, a common goal is to help identify the causes of child fatalities and develop strategies, programs, and training to reduce the rate of preventable child deaths as well as provide intervention services to families and children at risk.
Investigation and Placement Services
State law requires anyone who believes a child is being abused or neglected to report the situation so that CPS can investigate. Interviewing children, parents, and others who know about the family is an important part of a CPS investigation. These interviews help determine if child abuse or neglect occurred, if the children are safe, and to assess the risk of further harm to the child. It is critical to child safety and to families that investigations are completed in a timely manner.
If needed, CPS caseworkers may refer families for services in the community, such as individual or family therapy, parenting classes, medical assistance, mental health services, or programs offering financial assistance for utilities, rent, or child care.
If there is concern about the continued safety of a child, the caseworker may refer the family for family-based safety services. These services are provided in the home and help make sure children are healthy and safe. When safety for the child cannot be ensured, CPS may petition the court to have the child removed from the parents' custody and placed into foster care. For additional information on family-based safety services and foster care, see the sections below.
For more information on CPS investigations and investigation process, see: DFPS Data Book, page 29, example flow chart and pages 39-47.
Family-Based Safety Services
When child safety can be reasonably assured, CPS provides in-home services to help stabilize the family and reduce the risk of future abuse or neglect. Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS) can help avoid the need to remove children from their homes or make it possible for the children to return home by strengthening the family's ability to protect their child and reduce threats to their child's safety. FBSS include family counseling, crisis intervention, parenting classes, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence intervention, and day care. Most children getting these services continue to live at home while CPS works with their families. In some cases, children may live elsewhere temporarily, usually with relatives or close family friends, until it is safe for them to return home.
Family Group Decision Making
Family Group Decision Making is a collection of practices used to work with and engage children, youth, and families on safety, planning services, and decision making.
- Family Team Meeting is a rapid response to address critical child safety and placement concerns. They are used to ensure child safety in the earliest stages of CPS involvement. Family Team Meetings engage the family, community members, and other caregivers to help make critical decisions about child protection, safety, placement, and permanent living arrangements.
- Family Group Conference is a process where families join relatives, friends, and others to develop a plan to ensure children are safe, cared for, and protected from future harm. The family group is given a lot of decision-making authority and responsibility.
- Circles of Support are youth-driven meetings to develop a plan for older youth to transition from foster care to adulthood and to connect youth to caring adults who will support them. For more information on Circles of Support, see "Services for Foster Youth Transitioning out of Care" below.
When children cannot live safely with their own families, CPS may petition the court to remove them from their homes. They may be placed temporarily with relatives, a foster family, an emergency shelter, or a foster care facility. These caregivers provide a safe, nurturing environment for children in CPS care. Foster families receive a daily reimbursement for the costs of caring for children. CPS and foster parents are required to arrange all educational, medical, dental, and therapeutic services needed by the child. Some children have emotional or other needs that are hard to address in a foster home. So, sometimes they live in specialized group homes, residential treatment centers, or other facilities. If parental rights are intact, CPS provides services to the parents until the family is reunited or the courts approve another permanent living arrangement for the children. The court has ongoing oversight while a child is in foster care.
DFPS and the courts must consider temporary placements with relatives when removing children from their homes for their safety. DFPS asks parents to provide contact information for relatives and close family friends who may be able to care for their children. DFPS notifies relatives to explain their options and tell them about the support they can receive from the state to help care for children. Kinship caregivers may also provide permanent homes by adopting or accepting legal responsibility for children. For generations, extended families have helped rear children when parents are having a difficult time. Kinship care gives children more stability and a connection to family when they cannot live with their birth parents.
When a child cannot safely return home, the court may terminate the parents' rights, making the child available for adoption. The number of DFPS children who were adopted increased significantly from FY 2005 to FY 2011. One major factor was the number of kinship adoptions, which includes adoptions by relatives and others with significant, longstanding relationships with the children or families. Kinship adoptions in Texas have more than doubled since 2005 and now account for about 40 percent of DFPS adoptions. 4,635 DFPS children were adopted in FY 2011. DFPS approves adoptive homes and also contracts with licensed, private child-placing agencies to increase the number of parents available to adopt children in foster care. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recognized DFPS for increasing adoptions each year since 1999.
Texas Adoption Resource Exchange
The Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE) website (www.AdoptChildren.org) is an important recruitment tool for prospective foster and adoptive homes. Integrated with the "Why Not Me?" campaign, the website's most prominent feature is its photo-listing of Texas children awaiting adoption. TARE also includes children's profiles and videos.
DFPS added new features to the website at the end of the fiscal year to give families more information and to streamline the process. Families can now register and create a free profile where they can upload a family photo and save their adoption preferences. They can ask about specific children and get quick updates on the status of their inquiries. Profiles include information on whether a family's home has been screened and approved. Those who are not registered can do basic searches and learn how to become a foster or adoptive home.
TARE also offers a toll-free, nationwide Adoption and Foster Care Inquiry Line (1-800-233-3405). The information from these calls is forwarded to local CPS staff to follow up with prospective families. More information on Foster Care and Adoption is available on the TARE website at www.adoptchildren.org.
Adoption Support Services
Adopted children who have suffered abuse or neglect often need help coping with these experiences and the loss of their birth families. CPS contracts with private agencies to provide post-adoption services to adopted children and their families. Some of these services include case management, mental health services, therapeutic services to children and families, parent training, and support groups.
Circles of Support
Circles of Support is a process to support and help youth, age 16 and older, to develop a plan for when they become young adults and leave state care. It is based on Family Group Decision Making, so youth drive the process (see pages 15-16). Circles of Support includes broad participation by the youth's support network, which often includes foster or kinship caregivers, teachers, siblings, pastors, and other relatives. These meetings are required for youth 16 and older, although they may begin as early as 14 years of age. 3,099 Circles of Support were conducted in FY 2011.
Health Care Benefits
Texas provides health care to youth who age out of foster care up to the month of their 21st birthday. These youth get health care benefits through STAR Health, which is a form of Medicaid. Youth can continue to receive health care benefits up to age 23 in some circumstances but must be enrolled in an institution of higher education. STAR Health includes a medical home for each child, coordination and management of services, 24-hour nursing and behavioral health help-lines, and monitoring of psychotropic medication.
Youth Transitioning to DADS Guardianship
When a youth aging out of DFPS care needs long-term care or support into adulthood because of an incapacitating disability, the department refers that youth to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) for guardianship services. This process begins when a youth turns age 17. If a court appoints DADS as guardian, DADS assumes the main responsibility for the youth when the youth turns 18 or when the court makes its ruling. DFPS may continue to provide foster care for young adults even if they receive DADS guardianship services.
Preparation for Adult Living
The Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program helps youth in foster care make the transition to adulthood more successfully. PAL services include independent living assessments, financial help for a limited time, and training in such areas as financial management, job skills, educational planning, and interpersonal skills. A statewide Youth Leadership Council meets quarterly to review policies and practices. The council submits recommendations to DFPS to improve services for children and youth.
Extended Foster Care
Most foster youth leave state care after their 18th birthday. But youth can stay in extended foster care through age 21 or 22, depending on their circumstances while they pursue a high school diploma or GED. They can also remain in extended foster care:
- To attend college or a vocational or technical training program.
- To participate in a program or activity that promotes or removes barriers to employment.
- To work at least 80 hours a month.
- If they can't perform the activities above due to a documented medical condition.
Prior to FY 2011, the program was funded by the state. Thanks to legislation passed by the 81st Texas Legislature, the program was expanded and qualified for federal funding on October 1, 2010.
Return to Care
Youth ages 18 to 20 who have aged out of foster care may return to care:
- To attend high school or complete a GED course (up to age 22).
- Attend a vocational or technical program (up to age 21).
- Return on a break from college or a technical or vocational program for at least one month but no more than four months (up to age 21).
Education and Training Vouchers
The Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program provides financial assistance to eligible youth after they leave CPS care to help them with school expenses such as rent, computers, day care, and transportation. Youth who receive Permanency Care Assistance after age 16 are eligible for this program. The program supplements the state's Preparation for Adult Living program, as well as a tuition waiver program at state-funded universities, colleges, junior colleges, and vocational schools. The ETV program served 1,410 youth in academic year 2010-2011.
State Tuition and Fee Waiver
Since 1993, former foster youth and certain adopted youth have been exempt from paying tuition and most fees at state-funded colleges, community colleges, universities, and vocational schools in Texas. Later, the law was amended to extend this benefit to all youth adopted from DFPS or those whose permanent managing conservator (legal responsibility) is not their parent. The program has grown significantly since 73 students received waivers in the program's first year. According to the latest data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2,764 former foster and 453 adopted youth used the waiver in academic year 2009-2010.
Transition centers are clearinghouses for many DFPS partner agencies to serve youth (ages 15½ to 25) who are preparing to age out or have already aged out of foster care. These centers are separately funded, privately operated, and supported by partnerships between DFPS, their providers, and the Texas Workforce Commission. The centers provide PAL services, employment readiness, job search classes and assistance, and mentoring. Partner agencies provide other services including substance abuse counseling, housing assistance, and leadership development trainings and activities. Texas had 14 transition centers across the state by the end of FY 2011. Centers are located in Abilene, Austin, Beaumont, Central Texas (Belton, Killeen, and Temple), Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Kerrville, Lubbock, San Angelo, San Antonio, and Tyler. More information is available at www.TexasYouthConnection.org.
National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD)
The National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) is a data collection system created by the federal Administration for Children and Families to track independent living services and to learn how successfully states prepare youth to move from state care into adulthood. Texas surveys youth when they reach age 17 and then surveys some youth again at age 19 and 21. DFPS surveys a new group of 17 year olds every third year.
DFPS redesigned www.TexasYouthConnection.org and added a secure online survey in FY 2010 to collect this data. In FY 2011, Texas collected data for NYTD Period A from October 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011 and NYTD Period B from April 1, 2011 to September 30, 2011. DFPS will continue to collect data in future years as well as develop a NYTD policy and a manual for Preparation for Adult Living manual for staff.
Texas Youth Connection
The Texas Youth Connection website is a resource for youth in the Texas foster care system, alumni of foster care, or youth seeking general tips and information. This website was designed with input from youth and offers information and resources for education, finances, personal records, diversity, health, employment opportunities, food, housing, books, stories, hotlines, contacts and other information. More information is available at www.TexasYouthConnection.org.
Texas Youth Hotline
The Texas Youth Hotline serves youth under 21 years of age, including those who have aged out of the foster care system. Youth may contact this statewide hotline at 1-800-98-YOUTH for crisis counseling, information, and referrals. The hotline can help young adults locate services available in their communities.
Working with Partners
Foster Parents and Child Placing Agencies
Thousands of children are in the legal custody of DFPS due to being victims of abuse and neglect. Foster parents and private child-placing agencies help DFPS support these children through a close collaborative partnership. DFPS supports foster and adoptive parents by providing federal funds to the statewide Texas Council on Adoptable Children and the Texas Foster Family Association. DFPS also provides federal funds to local foster parent associations. These funds help in the education, training, and retention of foster and adoptive parents so they can better meet the needs of children.
Child Welfare Boards
CPS is administered by the state but many counties provide some funding for foster children's needs. Child Welfare Boards exist in more than 200 of the 254 counties in Texas. They provide significant support to enhance the care and services to foster children and their families.
CPS works with the Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards (TCCWB), a statewide network of more than 2,000 volunteers appointed by county commissioners' courts, to develop resources, programs, and strategies to enhance services for vulnerable children and families. Leaders of regional councils meet with CPS twice a year for educational programs and to share information and strategies that promote the safety and well being of children.
Giving Texas Children Promise
Children across Texas are helped by three innovative community partners programs developed by Giving Texas Children Promise (GTCP) (formerly Greater Texas Community Partners). These programs are Rainbow Rooms, the Adopt-a-Caseworker Program, and the Purchasing Partnership Program.
n Rainbow Rooms are emergency resource centers to help meet the critical needs of abused and neglected children. Rainbow Rooms provide car seats, clothing, shoes, underwear, baby formula, school supplies, and safety and hygiene items to children entering foster or relative care as well as children living in poverty in their own homes who are being assisted by FBSS caseworkers.
- The Adopt-a-Caseworker Program connects CPS caseworkers with individuals, churches, businesses, and organizations who help meet the needs of the children involved with CPS.
- The Purchasing Partnerships Program obtains drastically reduced prices on many essential items stocked in the Rainbow Rooms across Texas.
These unique partnerships support 150 Rainbow Rooms and 2,202 adopted caseworkers at various sites across Texas.
Texas Supreme Court
Once children are removed from their homes, courts play a critical role in determining their future and make the final decisions on what happens to them. No child enters or leaves foster care without a court order. A judge decides where the child will live and for how long. Every day, Texas courts decide whether a child goes home or to live with a relative, visits a sibling, or becomes eligible for adoption.
In November 2007, the Supreme Court of Texas created the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth, and Families (Children's Commission) to improve child protection courts and seek better outcomes for children and families involved in the Child Welfare System. Commission membership includes judges, elected officials, attorneys, and staff from DFPS and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and other organizations.
In October 2010, the Children's Commission's Education Committee identified guiding principles for improving the education outcomes for children and youth in foster care. These principles serve as the blueprint for the commission's subcommittees and workgroups as they develop recommendations that will be considered in January 2012. Topics include:
- Education stability for children and youth in foster care.
- Barriers and challenges that prevent children and youth from being successful in school.
- Ensuring youth in foster care take advantage of opportunities for education and training.
Parent Collaboration Group
The statewide Parent Collaboration Group is a partnership between DFPS and parents who have successfully navigated the CPS system. The group is made up of regional parent representatives. It meets quarterly and helps CPS improve its policies and practices. Since its creation in FY 2002, the group has developed parent support groups in each CPS region. These support groups help parents learn about and navigate the Child Welfare System.