Amid recent growth in abuse or neglect deaths of children in foster homes, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services approved a set of new regulations Friday meant to provide more oversight of children in foster care. Despite the new rules, advocates are calling for increased training for foster parents and additional checks on foster homes.
“Unfortunately last year, there was a very alarming number of abuse and neglect fatalities in foster care, and there was a realization we needed to do more,” said DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins. “We had to have better information on what was going on in foster homes and who the children were regularly coming in contact with at the home.”
Revised rules for new and existing foster homes apply to the state's 220 foster child-placing agencies licensed by DFPS. In addition to existing regulations, the new rules include a requirement for more interviews with members of the foster home's community, such as neighbors and school employees whom the children would regularly be in contact with, and a review of the household’s finances. They also require child-placing agencies to more closely monitor existing foster homes for major changes, including job losses, divorces, new household members or frequent visitors.
"These rules significantly strengthen protections for our foster children," John Specia, DFPS commissioner, said in a statement. "Our focus is ensuring that we know who is in these homes and who may be around these children that could pose an unacceptable risk."
The new rules are the first substantive revision of child-placing agency rules since 2007.
The new regulations follow a large increase in the number of abuse and neglect fatalities among foster children in fiscal year 2013. Of the 804 child fatalities reported statewide in the last fiscal year, 156 were related to child abuse or neglect, according to DFPS. Eight of those fatalities were among foster children, compared to two deaths the year before.
“Anytime you lose a child to abuse and neglect that’s a tragedy,” said Caitlyn Perdue, spokeswoman for the Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates, a volunteer organization that represents children in foster care. “With 156 children dying last year, that’s almost a child dying every other day.”
Advocates argue that even with the new rules, not enough is being done to protect foster children. Katherine Barillas, the director of child welfare policy at One Voice Texas, a nonprofit collaborative for health and human services providers, said foster parents should undergo more training and the department should conduct more frequent checks on their homes.
Foster parents are currently required to complete, at minimum, eight hours of preservice training, Barillas said. “That’s not even a full week of training to give strangers the authority to look after children who have already been traumatized in their own homes," she said.
In fiscal year 2014, which began in September, one child has died from abuse or neglect in foster care. The rules approved Friday are expected to take effect Sept. 1 after a period for public comment.