Testimony on SB 11: Cautious first step in foster care reform

Jennifer Allmon
Executive Director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops

I’m testifying in cautious support of SB 11. The issues facing our foster care system in Texas are numerous and complex. SB 11 is a beginning point in providing some needed reforms. We believe that a triage assessment system is an improvement that will help identify and respond to higher needs more efficiently. The deadlines for comprehensive assessments and investigations are also a strong improvement.

Many of the improvements in the bill rely heavily on private and faith based providers for successful reform of the system. We think this strategy leverages our deep community relationships and mission based commitment to care of children. However, we have some serious concerns about how some aspects of this bill will be implemented and potential unintended consequences related to potential civil liability and conscience protections.

Our foster care providers have been strong partners in foster care service delivery, parent recruitment, respite care, and support programs. Generally, we support the transfer of case management decisions to the private agencies based in the community because we are working more closely with families. We have the professional staff who are in much more frequent contact with families to recognize issues and concerns more swiftly than state case workers. However, with the state in this role, there is clear sovereign immunity from civil liability.

We would prefer that SB 11 contain a clear safe harbor in the statute.  Namely, if the private agency personnel follow certain protocols and standards of care and document these actions, then there should be immunity if the foster parent or child later commits a bad act.

Foster care providers are working with children with highly acute behavioral needs and often times histories of abuse that are incredibly challenging to overcome. We fear that the transfer of case management decisions to private providers could create a cause of action for our facilities or personnel who are working, often against the odds, to help children to heal from immense tragedies. SB 11 calls for increased capacity for the foster care system by encouraging collaboration with foster care providers, faith-based communities, and advocate groups. We believe strongly that reasonable conscience and liability protections are critical to the success of increasing capacity throughout the system.

We are happy to continue to work with you and your staff to ensure that further improvements are made to SB 11, as we believe it is vitally important for our state to build a strong and robust community based provider network.