AUSTIN – In his State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott declared child welfare reform his “No. 1 emergency item” for Texas lawmakers.
“You will cast thousands of votes this session. Few will involve life-and-death decisions. Your vote on CPS is one of them,” Abbott said.
The governor said more than 100 children died last year statewide.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said 103 children whose families were previously involved with Child Protective Services died from abuse or neglect.
“If you do nothing else this session, cast a vote to save the life of a child,” Abbott told lawmakers.
“We can talk as big as we possibly can in Texas, but what you heard today is a call to action by the governor,” said Anais Biera Miracle, spokeswoman for the Children’s Shelter of San Antonio.
The Children’s Shelter is among the agencies contracted by Child Protective Services to place children in foster homes.
Miracle said the governor also said what many child advocates had been waiting years to finally hear.
“To do this right, I’ve budgeted more than the House or Senate. Do not underfund this rickety system only to have it come back and haunt you. Do it right. If ever we’ve had an emergency item, this is it,” Abbott said to lawmakers.
The governor, along with Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner John Specia and others, were hit with a federal ruling in 2015 declaring foster care in Texas unconstitutional.
Child Protective Services has also been criticized for children sleeping in agency offices due to a lack of foster homes, siblings being split up and going to different cities for foster care and foster homes not being adequately supervised.
“We need more workers with better training, smarter strategies and real accountability to safeguard our children,” Abbott said.
Miracle said among the proposals is bipartisan legislation that would reorganize the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, making it a stand-alone agency with its commissioner reporting directly to the governor.