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TexProtects Testifies in Support of Implementing Family First Prevention Services Act in Texas

TexProtects Testifies in Support of Implementing Family First Prevention Services Act in Texas

TexProtects Vice President of Public Affairs Pamela McPeters testifying before the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services

In 2018, Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act, marking a major shift in child protection priorities: Among other provisions, this new law allows states to accept federal dollars previously available only for foster care and now invest them in programs designed to prevent foster care from ever being necessary. Now the Texas Legislature must take action to bring in those federal dollars, through Senate Bill 355 by Royce West.

On March 5, TexProtects Vice President of Public Affairs Pamela McPeters testified in favor of SB 355 before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Below is her testimony, and a link to her slides is here.

Good morning! My name is Pamela McPeters. I am the Vice President of Public Affairs for TexProtects. We are a research and advocacy organization and the Texas chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. Thank you, Chair Kolkhorst and members, for the opportunity to testify for Senate Bill 355 to develop a Texas solution to implement Family First foster care prevention services.

Every child deserves a safe and secure family. Removing a child from their biological family is traumatic, so when safe and possible, we want to keep families together. The federal Family First Act facilitates this opportunity. For the first time, beginning October 2021, federal Title IV-E dollars that were once available only for children who entered foster care are now available to fund evidence-informed and community-based prevention and early interventions so that “at-risk” children can remain safely at home rather than in foster care. Family First would provide a match of 50% for prevention services – and Texas gets to define the population of children “at-risk” – giving our state a great opportunity and much flexibility. Such services build on the knowledge that most children can be safely protected and remain within their own homes when parents are equipped with appropriate support and opportunities to care for their children. The prevention strategies included in Family First address key drivers of child abuse and neglect: substance use, mental health issues, and lack of parenting skills.

On slide 3, you see the impacts of substance use and mental illness on child maltreatment. Most alarming is the number of children who lose their lives as a result. In 2017, 75% percent of child abuse or neglect fatalities involved a caregiver with a confirmed substance use or mental health concern.

We know we can improve upon what we are doing today. On slide 4, 43% of children whose families have received family preservation services are reconfirmed abused and or neglected within 5 years. Confirmation of abuse requires a high burden of proof – so this level of recidivism is very concerning. Much abuse goes unreported and therefore goes unaddressed. The human and financial impact to our state is too great to not act. Slide 5 shows those costs of child maltreatment. Through Family First, we have the opportunity to bring our current services to a higher level of efficacy, better ensuring the best possible outcomes for our children while also saving dollars on the back end.

The federal Administration for Children and Families is developing a dynamic list of eligible evidence-based and trauma-informed strategies. We anticipate the first round of these approaches on slide 7 will be added to the clearinghouse in April, which will be continuously updated. Many already exist in our communities. Texas can also submit strategies for approval.

Chair Kolkhorst and members, we respectfully request you support SB 355 to prepare Texas to participate in prevention services made available through Family First. Let’s get ahead of the challenges and invest in proven programs building our capacity to reach families and changing the trajectory of the lives of our children.

TexProtects looks forward to serving as a resource for the committee as you continue your work. Thank you for your extraordinary commitment to these issues and to the families and children of Texas.

Further info: The text of Senate Bill 355 may be read here.

Posted on March 5, 2019.

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