Texas needs to ramp up spending on proven child-abuse prevention programs, child advocates and several lawmakers said Tuesday.
Sending “home visitors” such as nurses, teachers and social workers to work with disadvantaged pregnant women and high-risk young families can avert huge state costs, several speakers said at a “Home Visiting and Child Protection Day” rally at the Capitol.
The programs improve future graduation rates and avoid social ills such as incarceration, they said.
But the state is spending only about $70 million, including federal funds, on Home Visiting and Nurse-Family Partnership programs in the current two-year cycle, said Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.
“That’s only a 2 percent investment,” he said, referring to the Department of Family and Preventive Services’ overall budget of $3.2 billion. “It’s time that prevention takes a front seat in child protection.”
Madeline McClure of Dallas, founder and chief executive of TexProtects, the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, has protested how the initial budgets under consideration in the House and Senate treat the home visitor programs.
The documents, starting points framed by Republican leaders, appear to almost eliminate state funding and rely almost entirely on federal money, she has said.
“We need to ask for $35 million more” in general-purpose state revenue, she told an audience that included scores of foster care providers and other advocates.
“We can’t just look at CPS and work in a tunnel vision [primarily on] the workforce turnover or just the foster care system,” McClure said. “Our focus has got to be on scaling up evidence-based programs that we know work.”
For years, McClure has clamored for the department to cull its minuscule spending on prevention and intervention programs. Texas has to target limited dollars on programs that do more than just provide after-school recreation, she has said.
Rep. Cindy Burkett, a Sunnyvale Republican who is one of the House’s leading child-welfare policy writers, has filed a wide-ranging bill on child-abuse death investigations, CPS workers’ caseloads and the foster care bed shortage.
She said at the rally that “probably the most important” provision in her measure is one that asks the department and the Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct research on prevention programs whose effectiveness hasn’t been evaluated.
Burkett’s bill also would require home visits to be part of CPS’s existing family preservation and reunification programs. It would create a prevention advisory board at the department that would promote “expansion of evidence-based and promising practice programs.”
Burkett is part of a bipartisan, 12-member House work group on CPS that has been huddling for several months. This session, its members are expected to propose as many as two dozen separate measures on child welfare.