The Texas foster care system is infamous for failing its wards. The system is so flawed that in 2015 it was found in violation of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees the right for people to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm while in government custody. The reason: Kids entering the Texas system came out in worse shape than when they entered.
Many kids go in because of physical abuse at home, so how bad is the system? In 2022, more than 3,100 foster kids went missing. And every year around 40 kids die while in the care of Texas. What more will it take to get the state to take seriously its responsibility to children in its care? Some changes were made this legislative session, but the state Legislature decided to move in the direction of laws to favor parents in child abuse investigations, hoping that this will reduce the number of kids entering state care.
But at least a new mandate requires that the state provide foster kids duffel bags and backpacks to transport their belongings, instead of the trash bags they had been providing. Enhanced parental rights and backpacks aside, some will still end up in foster care, and they deserve to be safe and secure, not made worse off. Utilizing modern technology and the private sector could save lives and improve care.
Texas did partner with the private sector, a tacit admission that the state was failing on its own. The community-based care system now being implemented is a collaboration model between the Departments of Family Protective Services and local private sector non-profit organizations. But when it comes to using the best technology to protect kids the state simply fails.
The current system, built 30 years ago, contributes to welfare services losing track of kids, because caseworkers routinely have to track down physical documents in an intensely paper-based system. As the federal court said, this system “creates opportunities for important safety-related tasks to ‘fall through the cracks.’” But eight years later, same system. Yet the state has no plans to upgrade to something effective even when less expensive, easy options are available.
Gone are the days when an expensive custom software build was necessary. Software-as-a-service provides a license to use software on a common platform that can still be molded to unique needs. But even these improvements would require the state to devote adequate resources, which has been a chronic problem.
Given the introduction of another state entity into the mix with the non-profit organization, this sort of flexible platform would also help safeguard the family and child information that should be made available electronically. A new system would also empower social workers with the best individualized data available to help them stay ahead of potential problems, not least to help end the ongoing crisis of lost kids.
If only a fraction of the attention that state legislators have paid to demonizing “Big Tech” was focused on where the state can directly help at risk kids using technology, much good could already have been done. Then again, populist demagoguing is easy and cheap, and caring for kids is hard and costs money.
This article was originally published by Institute for Policy Innovation.