You want KBR or Halliburton in charge of foster kids? AGH!!!!! YIKES!!!!!! Did you even know this COULD be privatized? What is WRONG with this state???

–Freckles

 

Senator questions privatization of child protective services

Year-old state overhaul of system plagued with problems.


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A year into a massive overhaul of Texas’ Child Protective Services, the death of a North Texas boy in foster care has a key state lawmaker and some children’s advocates questioning a state plan to privatize the foster care system.

Sixteen-month-old Christian Nieto died of a head injury over Labor Day weekend while in foster care in Corsicana. His foster mother has been charged with capital murder, and the state is revoking the license of the private agency that arranged his foster care, Harker Heights-based Mesa Family Services.

At a meeting Tuesday of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, said that when she bought into the idea of privatizing the foster care system, she believed that there would be protections to prevent this sort of tragedy.

“We’re not privatizing the printing of telephone books here,” she said. “We’re talking about children, and we can’t make mistakes.”

Mesa Family Services, which also had a child die in foster care a year before Nieto’s death, has about 350 children placed in foster homes in Texas, including 58 in Bell County, eight in Williamson County and two in Hays County.

With the license revoked, most of the children will stay in their foster homes, although the foster parents will report to a different placement agency and will undergo additional training, said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the agency that oversees the CPS.

The privatization plan, which followed several high-profile child deaths, calls for the outsourcing of the foster care system to private agencies by 2011. Nearly 80 percent of the state’s 20,000 children in foster care are already in homes overseen by private groups. The plan will also outsource case management, which involves monitoring a child’s progress. That is now done by state workers.

State officials last month postponed awarding a contract for the first piece of the privatization effort, which would have outsourced services in the San Antonio area. They won’t say exactly why it was delayed. But the slowdown — and Nelson’s worries — seem to make the future of the privatization effort uncertain.

Although several agencies that place children in foster care urged the state Tuesday to move forward with the privatization, Barbara J. Elias-Perciful of Texas Loves Children, a nonprofit group dedicated to preventing child abuse, said that without firsthand knowledge of a child’s circumstances, there is no way for the state to hold private providers accountable.

Outsourcing case management “is a recipe for disaster and will lead to more child deaths,” said Elias-Perciful, an attorney specializing in child abuse law.

But Jack Downey, president of the Children’s Shelter in San Antonio, said children in Florida were safer after that state’s privatization. Further delay in Texas would “truly, truly hamper everyone’s efforts to make privatization successful,” he said.

Outsourcing the foster care system comes in the midst of a major privatization of another health and human services task: enrollment of Texans in public assistance such as food stamps and subsidized health care.

The state hired a group of companies led by Accenture LLP to run call centers to sign Texans up for benefits. After the project hit training and technical problems, officials indefinitely postponed statewide rollout of the system.

“Contract management may be the one thing our state does worse than managing foster care,” Lee Spiller, executive director of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Texas, told Nelson, the only senator to attend the committee meeting. Nelson authored 2005 legislation that reforms Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services.

Carey Cockerell, commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, told Nelson that CPS has begun random inspections of foster homes, increased the number of children placed with relatives and decreased the average daily caseloads for investigative caseworkers.

But although the state has hired more than 2,200 CPS workers since September 2005, high turnover continues to plague the agency. About 30 percent of Child Protective Services workers left in the 2006 budget year, Cockerell said.

One of the highest rates of turnover is among special investigators, a new group of caseworkers with law enforcement backgrounds who work on complex cases.

Cockerell stressed that the benefits of hiring caseworkers and putting them through training will take time.

“We’re just at the beginning of that process,” he said.

cmaclaggan@statesman.com; 445-3548

 
 
 

 
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