|For Immediate Release: Tuesday, April 6, 2004
Contact: Mark Sanders 512-463-4070
Comptroller Strayhorn Laments “Forgotten Children”
In State’s Foster Care System, Outlines Massive Overhaul
Replace State Caseworkers with Enforcement Staff, Yank Licenses of Poor Caregivers, Bring Care Standards to Humane Levels
(Austin)–Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn today called for a massive overhaul of the state’s foster care system in a special report, “Forgotten Children,” which details a widespread crisis in Texas’ foster care system.
“They are everybody’s children and nobody’s children,” Strayhorn said. “They are the forgotten children in the foster care system. Some of them find homes with caring foster parents, or in treatment centers with experienced and caring providers, and some do not. Some children have been moved among 30, 40, or even more all-too-temporary ‘homes.’ Some have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused while in the system; some have run away and joined the ranks of the missing. A few have even died at the hands of those entrusted with their care.
“This report gives these children something they need — a voice,” she said. “This investigation turned this One Tough Grandma into One Heartbroken Grandma.”
“The truth is that some of these children are no better off in the care of the state than they were in the hands of abusive and negligent parents,” Strayhorn said.
Among the dozens of recommendations are:
- Eliminate the inefficient dual system of foster care — one that is run by the state — creating a conflict of interest in which the agency regulates itself.
- Direct and redirect $193.9 million in savings to better care for children by replacing state caseworkers with independent oversight enforcement staff.
- Move, immediately, children out of all therapeutic camps that do not meet licensing standards for Permanent Therapeutic Camps.
- Raise standards across the board to humane levels.
- Revoke the licenses of facilities that have ongoing problems affecting the health, safety and well being of children.
- Educate foster care children about free higher education tuition eligibility.
- Develop a Foster Grandma and Foster Grandpa program to mentor and support the children.
“I am appalled at the conditions too many of our foster children must endure,” Strayhorn said. “I challenge any defender of the current system’s status quo to put their child or their grandchild in some of the places I’ve seen for one day, much less for a lifetime.”
Responsibility for the broken foster care system rests with state government and the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS), now called the Department of Family and Protective Services.
In fiscal 2003 alone, 26,133 children were in foster care. The state pays from $20 per day per child all the way up to $277 per day for a child with complex needs.
“The agency tolerates vast disparities in the quality of the services it purchases,” Strayhorn said. “It uses taxpayer dollars inefficiently and fails to take advantage of federal funding. It offers caregivers a perverse financial incentive to keep children in expensive, restrictive placements.
“I saw children on alarming amounts of psychotropic medications and children who have not seen their caseworker in months,” she said.
“We must end the current system that has the fox guarding the hen house,” Strayhorn said. “We cannot tolerate a system where regulators regulate themselves.”
Problems in DPRS include inefficient use of taxpayer dollars, inadequate licensing and contracting standards, ineffective investigations, heavy caseloads and high employee turnover, which prevent the agency from closely watching over the children in their care.
“I saw filthy living conditions, make-shift outhouses, unsanitary food storage, in so-called outdoor camps where children must sleep in sleeping bags – no walls, no fans, no heat – for months and months, and in many cases, year after year. That’s not care. That’s cruelty. That’s not educating. That’s endangering,” Strayhorn said.
Strayhorn’s report uncovers the harsh realities of the current foster care system and makes key recommendations aimed at improving the entire system. She recommends that the state raise the bar on quality, make the foster care system more accountable, ensure the health and safety of all foster care children, and provide a brighter future for foster children.
Strayhorn said she did find facilities that did treat children well.
“In each and every instance where children were getting the best care, the care givers are working closely and openly with the community,” Strayhorn said. “Each facility needs that close relationship, operating in the sunshine, and support from the communities they serve. Without that relationship, the children suffer.”
“It has been said that any society can be judged by how it treats its weakest members. My investigation shows that Texas can and must be judged harshly,” Strayhorn said. “Foster care in this state has been studied time and time again; reports are issued, promises are made, and the children continue to suffer. That’s unacceptable.”
Strayhorn said she planned to monitor changes made, or not made, as a result of this special report and “for the sake of our forgotten children, I will report back to the people of Texas, in six weeks and six months and as long as it takes to fix this broken system and save all of our children.”