Texas foster care issues are clear. The response of heads of state is not.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to receive an email notification whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.
If you’d like to listen to the column, just click the play button below.
(Audio not available. Click here to listen on texatribune.org.)
The power of a Texas governor to call a special legislative session includes setting its agenda. This list of issues tells lawmakers and the rest of us what the governor thinks is important enough to demand extra time from lawmakers.
The state’s struggling foster care system (and the well-documented dangers it poses to foster children in Texas) is not on the list, despite lingering problems. Persistent, in this case, means issues that have festered for so long that there is no longer any excuse to ignore them. These lingering issues have caught the regular and boisterous attention of U.S. District Judge Janis Jack, who signaled her frustration and a change in tactics after cutting a hearing short on Tuesday.
“All I want us to do is come together and find solutions,” Jack said. “I’m no longer interested in sanctions or having my feet on fire. I just want these kids to be safe.
Lawmakers have a federal windfall of $ 16 billion in COVID-19 response funds to spend, some of which could be used to improve the plight of foster children, but the money and new state laws are not coming. not the only problems here. They are not even the biggest.
The big flaw is Texas’ neglect of foster children and the lifelong safety net of the foster system, which has been the subject of federal court battles for a decade.
Maybe he needs legislative attention right now, and maybe it can wait. But it needs the attention of the state’s political leaders. It’s in federal court because the state has failed to give the program children their due, sometimes falling below the minimum level of care the state requires of parents.
Another way to put it: If a parent in Texas treated children like the state sometimes does, those children would be taken away for their safety.
Reese Oxner of the Texas Tribune reported on the hearing: “For three hours the judge, the Texas foster child counsel and state officials discussed the new findings of the named guard dogs. by the court. Details included unauthorized and unsafe placements – such as offices and hotels – where foster children spent the night and in which many were given incorrect or inappropriate doses of medication, exposed to sexual abuse or self-mutilation. .
Governor Greg Abbott has five things on the agenda for the special session that begins Monday: drawing new political maps to reflect the latest census figures, spending that COVID-19 relief money, forcing transgender student athletes to gamble only in teams aligned with their assigned sex at birth, preventing school districts from requiring masks to limit the spread of the coronavirus and protecting dogs from being chained without water or shelter.
Foster care is not on the governor’s menu.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has his own priority list. Because he doesn’t control the agenda, he works inside it, coming up with a wish list of spending for the $ 16 billion in federal money that is up for discussion. He wants property tax relief and money for the state unemployment insurance fund. It will be competitive, as others have offered to use the money for infrastructure, broadband expansion and rural hospitals, to name a few.
Host family placement is not on her list either.
Jack ruled in 2015 that the state violated the constitutional rights of foster children, putting them at unreasonable risk of harm. That’s a lot of kids too – over 28,000 as of Sept. 7.
At this latest hearing into the results of the latest report on Texas foster care issues, the judge told state officials she has seen enough studies on what’s wrong. She wants a plan for a cure and wants the governor’s explicit support for it.
Executives in state agencies report to the governor, and they work there. The governor probably has someone monitoring the problem. This is nothing new, and it is still a mess. This resurfaces every now and then, mainly when Jack raises his judicial voice or when something terrible happens with a child.
She has done it again, but as the legislature enters its third special session of 2021, foster families do not share the limelight with the issues raised by the state’s top political leaders – whether for the legislative or public attention.
They talk about sessional matters, as you would expect, but their agendas go beyond what the Texas legislature does, including, for example, their concerns about the increased number of migrants trying to cross. the border between the United States and Mexico.
Host families in Texas also don’t appear to be on those lists.
Federal Court Monitor’s Report on Foster Families in Texas, September 13, 2021.
Join us September 20-25 at the Texas Tribune Festival 2021. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas on politics, public policy and the day’s news, hosted by award-winning journalists of the Texas Tribune. Learn more.