Happy New Year,
Running Unopposed, and CPS

January 27, 2020

It is safe to say that in the midst of elections, impeachment trials, and pandemic threats, 2020 is shaping up to be an eventful year! For this first newsletter of 2020, I promise I will only talk about one of those things.

As some of you may know, I have been blessed this year to be unopposed in both the Republican primary election and in the general election in November. That means that I will be "reelected" as your state representative for another two year term (2021-22). The best part of being unopposed is that it allows me to use the next 11 months to dig in on policy work as we prepare for the next legislative session.

As we have started the new year, my staff and I are setting goals and objectives for our legislative priorities.  Since the foster care system, Child Protective Services (CPS) and its parent agency, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), have long been a high priority for me, I thought it would be timely to share some of these ideas as we plan for the next legislative session.

Overall, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic for the future of foster care in Texas.  First, Texas families of all stripes continue to answer the call and take at-risk children into their homes, either on a temporary basis or as a new forever home through adoption. In December 2019, DFPS reported that they have seen an increase in the number of adoptions in the last fiscal year.  Second, staff turnover at the agency has steadily declined over the last several years, which can help lead to better results for kids.  Finally, Texas continues to roll out Community Based Care (CBC), a paradigm shift in the delivery of child welfare services, whereby non-profit organizations manage foster care services at a community level in order to better align services with the needs of foster children.

Notwithstanding these positive trends, there is always room for improvement.  Specifically, wrongful child welfare investigations and removals continue to be a problem for many families in our state creating trauma for children and unnecessary churn and distractions for the workers trying to improve outcomes for those kids.  I also am concerned for the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) (a federal law which significantly redirects federal funding around foster care services) as well as the ongoing saga of the federal court case surrounding case load standards and other CPS items.

With any area of large governmental involvement, there are two distinct but interrelated areas to monitor- legislation and administration. Drafting law and directing state spending are two essential activities for which the Legislature is solely responsible, yet when done poorly, create massive challenges for even the best agencies. Conversely, it is equally true that innovative and carefully crafted laws can be undermined by poor implementation. Both sides are essential to good governance!
If you are interested in additional detail about 2020 and beyond for child welfare, we've got more for you in the bulk of the newsletter.

May God bless you and your family,
James B. Frank Signature
James B. Frank

Implementation, Implementation, Implementation
Legislators pass budgets and policy positions, but ultimately, nothing improves outcomes for children until positive changes are implemented by DFPS. For example, HB 5 (which became law in 2017) made DFPS a standalone agency reporting directly to the Governor and was supported by the agency. Not surprisingly, the provisions of the bill were implemented quickly and with only minor setbacks.
Contrast that with SB 11 (which also became law in 2017), a bill which made a number of changes to the direction of child welfare and foster care, and was an expansion of CBC. This portion of the bill was not popular within the agency and, disappointingly, implementation has been behind schedule and hit multiple bumps along the way. While CBC has had a positive impact on kids in the regions where it has been implemented, the delays in the rollout mean that fewer children have been able to enjoy those benefits. 
Good governance is a dance between the laws made by the Legislature and the agency personnel responsible for creating a plan to implement those laws and then acting on it. 

New CPS Leadership
It is my goal as we move towards a new legislative session to continue to support the work of Texas's child welfare agency.  To that end, CPS and DFPS will address immediate administrative issues beginning with the integration of a new leader. 
In October, Gov. Abbott announced the appointment of Jamie Masters as the new Executive Commissioner of DFPS. She started this new role in December and will continue oversight of the CBC expansion, including assessing the process to transition certain functions from CPS to new community providers, as well as implementation of the many laws enacted from the 86th legislative session. She'll also need to ensure timely compliance with Court orders for establishing case load guidance and foster home monitoring.
I personally am looking forward to working with her and support her in one of the most difficult and important jobs in state government.

Looking ahead to 2021
As the agency does its work in 2020, my staff and I will be monitoring that activity and drafting plans for legislative action when the Texas House and Senate convene once more in 2021.  Among the priorities that I'll be focusing on include continued expansion of CBC to other areas of the state, as well as the coordination of that expansion alongside implementation of the Families First Services and Prevention Act which holds promise to re-direct supports and services directly to families and thus mitigate the need to place children in foster care. These two issues--legislative parameters around the implementation of the Families First Act and the continued successful rollout of CBC--will be critical to the continued improvement of CPS.
Additionally, I plan to support legislation that will reduce unnecessary removals of children from their families and protect the due process right of parents within child protection investigations.  Previous legislative efforts will provide a foundation to study the child welfare investigation process and ensure that Texas is focusing its resources on cases where true abuse and neglect are occurring and that those situations are dealt with in the most appropriate way that can preserve families and result in better outcomes for children.   While we must never leave a child in an abusive situation, we must also be diligent to refrain from creating trauma in children by mistakenly removing a child from a fit parent.
One final area in which I hope to see progress is fatherhood engagement. While the government solely cannot change something as complex as parental involvement, the state can and should support the work of community organizations, churches, and other local entities to find ways to reinvigorate the engagement of fathers with children, particularly in communities with high numbers of at-risk families.  DFPS already does some of this work through its Prevention and Early Intervention division, but we should look for ways to ensure that we are emphasizing the role of both parents in stable families and how that can lead to better outcomes and economic mobility for children. 
A Final Note
I am optimistic that child welfare policy will continue to improve in 2020 and 2021. However, getting there will require a concerted effort by all of us - legislators, CPS personnel, child welfare organizations, families - to take an honest look at both what is working and what needs improvement. And all of us must keep the point of this work in mind - the prospering and protecting of Texas children and families. 

Once again, thank you for the honor of being your representative.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance.

Capitol Office:                                                                             District Office:
Texas Capitol, E2.604                                                                   1206 Hatton Road
P.O. Box 2910                                                                               Wichita Falls, TX 76302
Austin, TX 78768                                                                           Phone: (940) 767-1700
Phone: (512) 463-0534
Fax: (512) 463-8161
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