Upbring has enormous respect for all who answer the call of public service. In our endeavors to break the cycle of child abuse and improve long-term outcomes for all Texas children, we have the privilege of working alongside elected and appointed officials in all three branches of Texas state government, as well as county and municipal officials across our great state.
The Texas Legislature
Upbring is very pleased to present this report on the outcomes of the recently concluded 84th Texas legislative session and expresses its appreciation to the many members of the Legislature and their staff teams for a job well done. We also express our gratitude to the fantastic group of advocacy partners with whom we worked as a team this session to improve the well-being of and long-term prospects for children, youth and families across our great state.
The question to be asked of any legislative body at the end of any session is this – in those areas where there was a meaningful opportunity to make progress, did we make meaningful progress? By that yardstick, this Legislature did an exceptional job both on policy issues and in the budget to advance the great cause of bringing every Texas child up to lead productive and fulfilling lives.
While much work remains to be done, by all of us, this Legislature delivered significant wins for Texas children, youth, and families, and deserves credit for backing up the words of Governor Greg Abbott at his inauguration when he said that “our children transcend politics.”
Please contact Knox Kimberly at [email protected] or 512.706.7502 for more information.
Nine Key Session Outcomes
The following are brief summaries of nine key session outcomes that we believe will have the greatest positive impact on those we serve in the years ahead:
One. Normalcy (SB1407)
This signature enactment makes a fundamental change in the foster care system that will allow foster parents to act as parents and provide the children and youth in their care the opportunity for normal socialization activities enjoyed by most children growing up. This is achieved by establishing a “reasonable and prudent parent” standard that allows foster parents to make determinations as to age and developmentally appropriate activities with protection from liability so long as their decisions are within that standard. This will help promote the protective health factor of psychological well-being in these young people’s lives and will be incorporated into Upbring training and practices in the months ahead.
Two. Training (HB781)
This important enactment raises the bar for foster parent training and provides transparency as to training methods by increasing the minimum number of training hours required of foster parents from 16 to 35 and by requiring DFPS to gather and publish information on training methods on its website. This increase better reflects the existing practices of Upbring and other leading child placing agencies and will enable all agencies to learn from each other by promoting an environment of innovation and best practices in training methods.
Three. Prevention (SB200)
Responding to the call to consolidate prevention and early intervention programs and increasing investment in those programs, the Legislature took the programs previously spread across three separate agencies and consolidated them in what will be known as the Prevention and Early Intervention Division of DFPS. This allows for a more robust and inherently better coordinated overall approach to prevention efforts. Investment in these efforts was also substantially increased, as addressed in the discussion of the DFPS budget below, providing the opportunity for Upbring to more fully explore new service opportunities in this arena in the months ahead.
Four. Sunset (SB206)
For the first time since 2003, all of Texas’s health and human services agencies were subject to sunset review, and at the end of the process, DFPS will remain a separate agency. The Legislature deserves credit for changing course on agency consolidation during the session as new information became available, instead choosing to realign functions that will enable DFPS to focus on its core mission as represented in three areas – child protective services, adult protective services and prevention and early intervention.
Additionally, this bill includes nearly 100 other statutory changes designed to further agency transformation and streamline processes that should improve the functional relationship between the agency and Upbring.
Five. DFPS Budget (HB1)
The overall budget for DFPS for the 2016-2017 biennium is just under $3.5 billion, an increase of 11.7% in all funds (including federal funds) and 21.9% in general revenue funds (Texas tax revenues). This increased investment of over $360 million includes the following elements of particular significance to Upbring:
- Additional funding for overall anticipated caseload growth and additional staffing to keep caseloads for individual caseworkers at present levels.
- Rate increases for foster care providers.
- Rollout of foster care redesign to one additional catchment area to be launched during the 2016-2017 biennium, with additional funding for both the additional catchment area and the existing redesign catchment area that was launched on September 1, 2014.
- Substantial additional funding for prevention programs, including $37 million to expand Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) and Community Youth Development (CYD) programs, plus additional funding that will come with prevention programs being transferred to DFPS from HHSC and DSHS.
- New funding for a program to prevent abusive head trauma, the number one cause of child fatalities due to abuse. Our community service partner in Austin, Dell Children’s Medical Center, was the primary source of the data and information required to justify investment in this new program.
- Additional funding for the agency’s technology and data systems overhaul.
Six. Redesign (HB1)
As noted above, DFPS is authorized to proceed with foster care redesign in one additional catchment area over the next two years, with the determination of the catchment area left to DFPS. The additional funding for both the existing and expected new region make redesign a more viable proposition, and Upbring will closely follow the decision making process as to the additional region selected.
Three other enactments – with less direct impact on Upbring but very important and favorable impacts on Texas children, youth, and families – are the following:
Seven. Mental Health and Substance Abuse (HB1)
Following up on a very substantial infusion of new funding into the Texas mental health system in 2013, the Legislature made further progress toward a better funded inpatient and outpatient services system. Notably, enhanced inpatient services include residential treatment slots for DFPS clients who are at risk of parental relinquishment, and outpatient services include increased investment in local mental health authorities and substance abuse prevention. These important endeavors help to address critical risk factors impacting children, youth and families, and the combination of the actions taken in 2013 and this year have clearly moved Texas in the right direction on mental health.
Eight. Pre-K (HB4)
Funding for a quality Pre-Kindergarten program focused primarily on at-risk children was one of Governor Abbott’s emergency items and is an important step forward in efforts to have early childhood education available to every Texas child. Research demonstrates the important role of early childhood opportunities in promoting the protective factor of education, and Upbring will explore the intersection of its emerging education strategy with the state’s Pre-K program over the months ahead.
Nine. Truancy (HB2398)
For older youth, the most far reaching enactment of the session may be the decriminalization of truancy. Texas was one of just two states where truancy remained a criminal misdemeanor, but that will now be a proceeding handled purely as a civil matter and in a manner designed to achieve productive intervention rather than punishment. Additionally, those youth and adults who have been saddled with such criminal convictions that have hindered their education and employment prospects have a means to have those convictions expunged. The diverse coalition of stakeholders who supported this legislation deserves enormous credit for their advocacy on behalf of at-risk Texas youth – past, present and future.
Except as otherwise noted, policy measures take effect on September 1, 2015, and budget measures are effective for the biennium that begins on September 1, 2015.
Upbring expresses its heartfelt appreciation to the Legislature as a whole for these and other positive outcomes, and we recognize the following members in particular for championing and advancing these and other beneficial enactments and investments:
Senator Donna Campbell
Senator Charles Schwertner
Senator Kirk Watson
Senator Judith Zaffirini
Senator Lois Kolkhorst
Senator Kel Seliger
Senator Royce West
Senator Jane Nelson
Senator Carlos Uresti
Senator John Whitmire
Texas House of Representatives:
Representative Cindy Burkett
Representative Sarah Davis
Representative Dawnna Dukes
Representative Dan Huberty
Representative Elliot Naishtat
Representative John Otto
Representative Walter T. “Four” Price
Representative Richard Pena Raymond
Representative Senfronia Thompson
Representative John Zerwas
Abbot, Straus, Patrick and Hegar:
We also acknowledge the leadership of Governor Greg Abbott, who signed all of the measures reported above into law; Speaker Joe Straus and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who joined in supporting numerous measures for the benefit of at-risk Texas children, youth and families, and Comptroller Glenn Hegar, whose engagement in the budget process was instrumental in empowering additional investment. We also wish to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of the professional staff members who support these legislative and executive branch officials, without whom these results could not have been achieved.
Our Advocacy Partners:
Our advocacy partners welcomed our new level of engagement with open arms, and our ability to contribute the credibility of our workforce of nearly 1,000 on the front lines of the child protection system enabled us to help them deliver key messages in support of these policy and budget initiatives. Upbring expresses its great appreciation to the following advocacy partner organizations and individuals with whom we had the pleasure of working this session:
- Katherine Barillas, One Voice Texas, Houston
- Sarah Crockett and Andy Homer, Texas CASA, Austin
- Will Francis, National Association of Social Workers – Texas Chapter
- Ashley Harris, Texans Care for Children, Austin
- Pamela McPeters, TexProtects, Dallas
- Tiffany Roper, Jamie Bernstein and Tina Amberboy, Supreme Court Permanent Commission on Children, Youth and Families, Austin
DFPS Commissioner John Specia:
Finally, we recognize the extraordinary efforts of DFPS Commissioner John Specia and his terrific team, who worked tirelessly and persuasively to produce exceptional outcomes that will benefit the children, youth and families we serve.