Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
Advisory Council Meeting

October 17 , 2008

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, Debbie Epperson, Paul Furukawa, Richard Hoffman, and Mamie Salazar-Harper.

Also present was Interim Commissioner Ben Delgado and Department staff.

Not present were Faith Johnson, Imogen Papadopoulos, and Linda Bell Robinson.

Agenda Item 1 – Call to Order

Call to order by Chair Ommy Strauch at 9:01 a.m.

Agenda Item 2 – Reading, Correction and Approval of Minutes of July 18, 2008
Regular Meeting*

Ms. Bryant moved adoption of the minutes as written, and Dr. Furukawa provided a second. There was no further discussion, and the minutes were approved.

Agenda Item 3 – Public Testimony

Chair Strauch inquired and confirmed that no one present wanted to give public testimony.

4. Agency Briefings

4.a. Legislative Appropriations Request – Cindy Brown, CFO

Cindy Brown gave a presentation on the LAR for FY 2010-11.  The presentation included a summary of key issues with the FY ’08-’09 base, including a request to use surplus funds to cover operating budget shortfalls that, due to the timing of the request and submittal of the LAR, could not be included in the FY ’08-’09 base or in the baseline request for FY 10-11.  Therefore, the FY ’10 and ’11 baseline request does not fund all the FTEs authorized for the current biennium.  Ms. Brown explained that the forecasted case load growth in the two federal entitlement programs, foster care and adoption subsidy payments, is included in the baseline request. 

The presentation also provided a summary of the exceptional item requests. Ms Brown noted that the top three items are needed to continue FY ’08-’09 legislative initiatives; they make up 48 percent of the total GR requested.  The FTEs associated with the top three items are existing items that would be cut if the items are not funded.  FTEs requested in all the other exceptional items are new and contain a few HHSC FTEs that are needed to maintain the critical support HHSC provides to the regions. Two additional funding requests are being developed to be presented to the 81st Legislature when the session starts.  Finally, Ms. Brown listed DFPS needs that are found in other LARs and the consolidated budget request.

Ms. Brown’s presentation (including a summary of the exceptional item requests) is posted on the DFPS website under “News”, or at http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/documents/about/Presentations/2008-09-24_JointBudget.pdf

The public may submit comments or questions regarding our LAR via e-mail at Stakeholder@dfps.state.tx.us or by fax at 512-339-5891.

Chair Strauch stated that three Council members who are absent from today’s meeting will receive the LAR information.

4.b. Foster Adoption Development (FAD) Program – Debra Emerson, CPS

Debra Emerson gave a presentation on the improvements being made to the foster care and adoptive home development program titled A Time for Change. FAD is undergoing a cultural change and philosophical shift to strengthen the CPS role as a child placing agency.

Historically the foster care program supported the conservatorship program when case loads became high, when children needed to be adopted. There was a great blending between those two programs where the focus became more on conservatorship and the loss of FAD functions. Each region also operated separately, and during this process, families felt lost and unsupported, and while there was a significant amount of inquiries into the program, they didn’t materialize into families actually going into training and becoming licensed. Also, over the last several years, there have been problems in terms of building capacity for the children.

In the FAD program in the last several years there has been significant growth in the number of consummated adoptions; however, there’s been a significant drop in the number of foster homes, and the baseline for adoptive homes has not significantly increased over the years.

The statewide FAD work group met in early 2007 to look at developing one standard, family-friendly process and spent the last year outlining and business mapping a step-by-step process in which a family moves through the FAD system. As of August 1 there has been a clear separation in the CPS program: the FAD staff function is to look at the homes, and the CPS staff function is to do child case management services.

The goal of the FAD revamp is to make the verification approval process quicker, easier, and customer friendly. Other goals are to increase the number of homes available to children and lessen the time to achieve permanency for children, to increase the recruitment efforts and to build foster care capacity to better meet the individual needs of children.

Ms. Emerson discussed that children need to be placed with their siblings and prefer to be placed in their home community to be close to areas they are most familiar with to reduce their trauma. They should also be kept within their home educational system so they do not have to switch schools during the family separation, and they should be in close proximity to home to facilitate parental and family visitation. When parents stay connected, outcomes for children are significantly improved.

There is a need for homes that are knowledgeable and can meet the very individualized needs of children, rather than just finding a bed for a child. The goal is to match the child with the skills of the foster parent.

The business mapping process was a collaboration with Casey Family programs, with a focus on a customer-centered orientation process. We have statewide consistency in our FAD work and wanted to have one consistent message that was given to the families throughout the process, and for staff to have very clear expectations and policies regarding opening and licensing homes, but also closings. FAD staff focuses on recruitment, the verification and monitoring of homes, and allows CPS staff to work on case management. IMPACT changes have begun to allow monitoring of the FAD program and holding staff accountable.

Ms. Emerson reported on the highlights of the business process, including streamlining the verification and approval process with a goal of foster and adoptive homes to be verified or approved within 120 days, and for the relative/fictive kin to be processed within 90 days. There will be a formal tracking system of the inquiries and applications that we receive along with their actual verification and approval. Relative adoptive families are no longer required to participate in pre-service training, as many of the children are already placed and have an existing relationship with the relatives.

In the new program during the 12-week process, families will not only get their training, but their individual home assessment will be completed, and we will initiate and complete the home study process. This will be a way for families to move through the system quicker. The time will be cut down from six - nine months to four months.

All FAD staff throughout the state have been trained in the business mapping process. The FAD staff now are more geared toward customer service and that is really assisting families. Instead of a pile of forms to fill out, there are now processes set up at informational meetings, in the office, and also out in the family’s home, if necessary, to assist them with paperwork and completion of documentation.

The new standardized statewide implementation plan went into effect September 1st of this year. Informational meetings are held twice a month in each region, and we are beginning one or more PRIDE classes in each of the regions. Some of the larger regions at times will have three PRIDE classes going on at the same time to better accommodate families. Also, the home study will be initiated earlier in the verification process, and in each session the individual family is updated on status of forms received and/or missing. FAD staff will work with families weekly to troubleshoot any problems.

By improving our FAD process we are assisting and promoting achievement of permanency for children. Foster parents are still one of the greatest resources for adopting children. Placing children safely with a foster family that will lead to adoption, when appropriate, is always good for permanency. Equally important is having really skilled foster parents who are able to support children and possibly their parents for early reunification of families.

Ms. Salazar-Harper remarked upon an increase in adoptions, and was curious as to what attributed to the increase. She stated there was a big advertising campaign targeting adoption, and was curious if it would be ongoing or was only a focused effort. Ms. Emerson stated that CPS continues the focused effort that includes monthly tracking of all children who are free for adoption, ensuring placement of children, and prompt completion of paperwork.

The “Why Not Me” campaign is focusing on older children and African American children. The CHILD (Congregations Helping in Love and Dedication) reaches out to the faith-based community for support and recruitment of foster parents and adoptive parents. In the last three years through the CHILD program, there have been over 100 children placed. Quite a few adoptions have come out of that program. It is an ongoing effort, and the plan is to continue with “Why Not Me” and “CHILD” and “PUSH” (which is pushing to ensure that children that are in placements intended to be permanent are moved to adoption as quickly as possible).

4.c. Parental Advisory Committee – John Castle, PAC Chair

Chair Strauch announced that the Parental Advisory Committee would not be presenting on this day as they have requested to move their presentation to a future Council Meeting date.

4.d. Commissioner’s Report – Ben Delgado

Interim Commissioner, Ben Delgado, noted that he has been serving as Interim Commissioner since September 1.  It’s been quite a challenge, but with the experience of being with DFPS previously for two years, he is familiar with the agency and felt comfortable coming back as Interim Commissioner.  The executive team has been receptive and cooperative.  They have had a very productive period during these months leading up to session, and they are representing the interests of this agency, having had their first hearing before the LBB and other leadership offices.

One of the first things the Interim Commissioner did when he came back was to meet with each Assistant Commissioner in every division.  He was amazed at not only the activity, but also real outcomes and real production.

The Interim Commissioner then reported on the Senate Bill 758 report, which combines reporting both from implementation of Senate Bill 6 reform activities and new mandates that were given to DFPS last session.  DFPS submitted the report in September and it shows that we have made a lot of progress.  Some of the achievements have been through utilization of the family group decision making model where families are increasingly engaging as active participants in resolving their own challenges, and children who are unable to stay in their own homes are more often being placed with extended families.  Safety is increasingly assured through effective background checks conducted by a centralized background check unit; we continue to make progress with technology implementation and to work effectively with partnerships with courts and other stakeholders.  He verified that the Council members had received the SB 758 report.

The Interim Commissioner also reported on the 5th Circuit Court decision, known as the Gates Case, which is a decision that is binding on the State of Texas, clarifies Texas law, and is a significant change in the guidance given to caseworkers as they perform their work.  Two key components of the decision are that, first, it sets out a new standard that affects whether CPS can transport or enter a home without a court order.  It will require a CPS worker to obtain a court order prior to removal in a larger proportion of the cases.  Second, it clarifies that if the standard is not followed, staff could be sued as individuals and lose qualified immunity.  We want our caseworkers to feel confident that they can do their work, so we are in the process of providing policy clarifications and additional training that will give them real life guidance on how to apply these decisions.  This is an ongoing process and a priority for this agency.

Work with mobile technology continues with the very successful implementation of mobile technology in both the CPS and APS fields several years ago, and now with Childcare Licensing.  This is a new version of mobile technology, based on previous success but using new architecture.  It’s easier to use, the case workers are adapting to it very quickly, and we hope that those changes can be made for the rest of the agency as well.  Some pilots that have been very successfully completed have shown an increased productivity among the staff.  A second pilot will begin in January of 2009.

Another ongoing initiative supports the work force and retention of staff.  Retention issues continue to be one of our legislative priorities through funding requests, both for some targeted pay increases for different kinds of staff; there is a mandate to submit a human resources management plan to the legislature.  The turnover remains relatively high, but did decrease slightly from ’07 to ’08 from 21.2 percent to 19.4 percent.  Plans are to implement strategies that combat the turnover in staff and continue to improve the model and exert every effort to make sure that staff are trained, that supervisors are trained, and that every tool available is being used to make the workforce as positive as possible.

Background check operations have been centralized.  The agency previously had disparate background checking functions across the agency and various programs.  The background check function has now been centralized and has proven to be very effective and very capable of providing the function for the entire agency.  Policies are being finalized to fully implement this function.

There have been major achievements in “Moving Foster Care Forward”.  Some of the objectives on enhancements to improving capacity and services for foster care were to decrease the number of children without placements, increase placements of children and their siblings in their homes or communities, and reduce placement breakdowns.  There is an arrangement with the University of Houston to help us conduct a needs analysis and to develop a strategic plan to address this issue.  Service level agreements have been developed and implemented with providers to make sure that they know that they are going to get paid at higher rates for increased levels of care.   

November 4 - 7 is the 25th Annual Adult Protective Services Conference in San Antonio.   Council members are invited to participate in an upcoming conference, the very first one of its kind, the Conference of Health and Human Services Councils, which will bring together all of the councils of all of the agencies across Health and Human Services.  It will be held at the Capitol Auditorium in Austin.  Primarily the conference will be a discussion and training for Council members, to help them understand how to perform their roles more effectively.  Also, the annual PEI, Partners in Prevention, Conference, is November 12 - 14 in Round Rock.

The agency is in full-tilt mode in preparation for the legislative session.  Legislative packets are prepared for each of the divisions with proposals for legislative changes.  We are working with legislative offices to offer our assistance and our ideas in making legislative changes that, as well as our ongoing work with our LAR and our exceptional items, will continue. 

The Interim Commissioner thanked his team for making this period productive and enjoyable: “We have continued to show that we can move this agency forward.  Even without a permanent Commissioner, we have been very effective in addressing crises, including responding to Hurricane Ike, and not being thrown off our mission and continuing to do all those things we have been asked to do by the legislature.  There has been incredible support from Executive Commissioner Hawkins during this period.  He has been available to us to help guide us in whatever we needed.  Members of the legislature also have been very gracious and willing to work with us positively during this period.” 

Ms. Salazar-Harper stated that turnover in most industries is of great concern, and more specific to this one, and asked if the department has looked at other states to see whether or not the turnover numbers are consistent, and whether the department is able to see what other states have done to improve their turnover rate.

Terri Ware responded that she just answered this question for the State Auditor’s Office about research done on other states and industries dealing with turnover, and the information has been incorporated into the item in the LAR.  The state the department relied most heavily on is Florida, which had a significant turnover problem.  DFPS has been working with a person who worked for the child welfare organization there and has gotten many ideas from her.  Florida has been successful in dealing with this problem.

4.e. Chair’s Report – Ommy Strauch

Chair Strauch reported that the focus of the activities since the last meeting has been on becoming more familiar with the legislative appropriation requests, understanding it, and forming intelligent questions.

Chair Strauch thanked Rick Hoffman for having attended.

Chair Strauch also reported on participation in the Commissioner’s selection. Gigi Bryant and Ommy Strauch, along with two representatives from the Governor’s office, and the Chief of Staff of HHCS, were members of the Commissioner’s selection panel. The panel has gone through the process of interviewing candidates, forwarding recommendations to the Commissioner, and having those candidates meet with advocacy groups. Names of those candidates have been forwarded to the Governor’s office, which will make the final decision. Chair Strauch thanked the people who represented the advocacy groups for taking the time to talk to individuals being considered for DFPS Commissioner. She commented on the remarkable passion they have for their work.

Chair Strauch then spoke of individual Council members’ liaison activities. Gigi Bryant was a keynote speaker in New Mexico, and Dr. Furukawa is “all over San Antonio speaking on behalf of children”. Regarding turnover and retention, the Chair and Dr. Furukawa met with staff, with the regional director and other people, like Dr. Milam, who are really knowledgeable to find out what is being done to improve the conditions under which we are operating. Chair Strauch encouraged everyone to attend the November 7th meeting of the five agencies stating, “There are so many things that run across the enterprise that require cooperation and collaboration, and many things that can be learned from each other”. Chair Strauch announced there would be a Council Chairs’ meeting of the four sister agencies on November 6th.

There are a number of events coming up all the way through December, not the least of which is the silver anniversary APS conference, plus the proportionality conference, which is going to provide lots of opportunities to participate.

Ms. Bryant reiterated what Chair Strauch said earlier regarding the selection of the Commissioner for the department, stating some tremendous men and women, inside and outside the State of Texas, were interested in being a part of this process and leading this great organization. She expressed appreciation for everyone’s time and stated they would be well represented regardless of who is chosen as Commissioner.

Dr. Furukawa reported on his presentation to the Rotary Club in San Antonio, stating that it was very, very short notice. The title was ‘Watching Over Our Neighbors’ Children”, which included discussion of the excellent day-to-day work that CPS does.

Dr. Furukawa acknowledged Wynne Breece, who was significant in providing him the information for the presentation in a timely way, stating that she does a wonderful job of keeping everyone apprised. He also acknowledged Melissa Tijerina, the External Relations Specialist in Region 8, who was the primary speaker during the Q&A following his presentation. He went on to acknowledge Irene Clements, who is a member of the Texas Foster Family Association, and who invited him to attend and represent the Council at the conference.

Agenda Item 5 – Old Business

5.a. Recommendation to adopt rule changes in 40 TAC, Chapter 711, Investigations in DADS Mental Retardation and DSHS Mental Health Facilities and Related Programs* - Carl Urban, APS

Ms. Spiser reported that no comments were received during the public comment period. She asked the Council to recommend to Interim Commissioner Delgado and Executive Commissioner Hawkins that these rule changes be adopted, to be effective December 1, 2008.

Ms. Bryant moved that the Council recommend for adoption by the HHSC the amendments to Chapters 745.371, 745.8447 and 745.8449 concerning licensing, as reflected in the Council’s October 17, 2008 Agenda Item 5.b. Mr. Hoffman seconded the motion, and the motion was passed.

5.b. Recommendation to adopt rule changes in 40 TAC, Chapter 745, Licensing* - Diana Spiser, CCL

Ms. Spiser reported that no comments were received during the public comment period.  She asked the Council to recommend to Interim Commissioner Delgado and Executive Commissioner Hawkins that these rule changes be adopted, to be effective December 1, 2008. 

Ms. Bryant moved that the Council recommend for adoption by the HHSC the amendments to Chapters 745.371, 745.8447 and 745.8449 concerning licensing, as reflected in the Council’s October 17, 2008 Agenda Item 5.b.  Mr. Hoffman seconded the motion, and the motion was passed.

5.c. Recommendation to adopt new rules and rule changes in 40 TAC, Chapter 700, Subchapter H, Adoption Assistance* - Liz Kromrei, CPS

Ms. Kromrei explained that Joyce James asked that she extend apologies for her absence, as she is with the Texas Supreme Court Commission on Children and Families; she assures there are no further schedule conflicts for the upcoming Council meetings. Ms. Kromrei reported that no public comments were received during the public comment period. She asked that the Council recommend to Interim Commissioner Delgado and Executive Commissioner Hawkins that these rule changes be adopted, to be effective January 1, 2009.

Ms. Salazar-Harper moved that the Council recommend for adoption by the HHSC the amendments to 700.801, 700.880, and the new 700.806 and 700.807. Ms. Epperson seconded the motion. There was no other discussion; the motion carried.

Agenda Item 6 – Adjourn*

Chair Strauch adjourned the meeting at 10:16 a.m.

* Denotes Action Item