Keough: Compromise ensure CPS reform

March 6, 2017 GMT

During the State of the State Address delivered earlier this session, Gov. Abbott made reforming CPS an emergency item. The House already had committed to major CPS reforms ahead of his address and a workgroup was appointed to dive deep into the problems facing the Department of Family and Protective Services. I was honored to serve on that work group for the past six months.

With this knowledge, and the knowledge of the other members of the workgroup, we identified several legislative corrections to the department. The first two pieces of legislation, HB 4 and HB 5, were passed out of committee and were debated last week before the full house of Representatives.

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HB 4 attempts to offset a long-standing imbalance in the foster care system regarding “kinship care.” Currently, a family member who agrees to care for a relative’s child might not be able to do so because of the expense associated. Alternatively, if a child enters the foster-care system, the foster-care provider would receive a monthly stipend to cover those expenses. To encourage more kinship placements, HB 4 creates a new funding program which provides up to 50 percent of the current foster-care payment to the kinship caregiver. The result is that the child will now live with relatives who are known to the child rather than foster parents whom are strangers to the child.

HB 4 passed the House unanimously, but not without some heated debate. Currently, caregivers can provide kinship care to their relative child, even if the caregiver resides in Texas unlawfully. This is already in place and not subject to change. I have serious concerns with taxpayer dollars assisting those who live here unlawfully. In the spirit of fiscal responsibility, during the floor debate, I offered an amendment to the bill to ensure that this was not allowed. My amendment would still enable children to go to their relative caregivers who live in Texas illegally, but would prevent them from receiving the new funds.

After hours of heated debate over my amendment, it became apparent that my amendment would harm the passage of the entire bill. Because HB 4 was the only filed bill, in either the House or Senate, to create this funding, I believed that killing the bill over this amendment would put all children who could participate in the benefits of kinship placement at a disadvantage. Although it was difficult to do, in order to ensure the passage of HB4, I withdrew my amendment. This allowed the bill to pass unanimously.

Because this is only the beginning, the near future focus will shift to include more safeguards for families in Texas. We must ensure parents are not being targeted erroneously by our agency. Over the next few weeks, I will be providing you with additional updates on the reforms underway in the Legislature.

Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, represents District 15 in the Texas House of Representatives. Call his office at