Buckner International teamed up with the Texas Alliance for Child & Family Services to advocate for the needs of children and families at the Texas Capitol on Jan. 24. Buckner leaders from across the state showed up dressed in Buckner blue (and comfortable shoes) to visit with 20 key senators and representatives who represent areas of the state Buckner serves, from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley.
Our message was simple: Focus on upstream solutions for vulnerable children and families to keep them out of the foster care system. Of course, Buckner will always provide quality foster care and adoptions when necessary, but in our 140+ years of service, we’ve learned a few things, including children are better off with their biological families when possible.
We shared stories and statistics about the work Buckner does to protect children, strengthen families and transform lives for generations, and we asked them to use some of Texas’s historic budget surplus to invest in proven programs that keep families together and thriving.
Specifically, we asked the Texas legislature to:
Fully fund the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service’s (DFPS) request for Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) grants. Faith and community-based organizations receive these grants to strengthen families and promote positive outcomes to vulnerable children and youth. Buckner currently receives these grants in East Texas (both North and Southeast Texas) and the Rio Grande Valley, and they empower us to keep families safe together and out of the CPS system. Last year, 97% of children whose families were in PEI services remained safe from abuse and neglect and stayed out of the juvenile justice system.
Repurpose unspent federal funds on grants for evidence-based family preservation services. Some of our families are in crisis, struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, harmful family dynamics and dangerous behaviors. These families are at extreme risk of losing their children to the system by placing their children in an alternative placement like a residential treatment center or having to voluntarily give up their children to DFPS.
Many of these vulnerable families are grandparents or other relatives raising children who couldn’t be safe in the first place with their biological parents or adoptive families dealing with unforeseen and/or unaddressed trauma. These families want, need and deserve highly effective, evidence-based family preservation services. There is at least $15 million in unspent federal funds at DFPS that could be made available to create a grant program that Buckner and multiple other providers across the state could use to implement evidence-based parenting skills coaching and mental health programs.
Incentivize corporate investments in families with a strong families tax credit. Provide limited state tax credits to corporations who donate to effective, eligible organizations that strengthen families to sustain investments and growth in family strengthening services into the foreseeable future such as, mental health, parenting skills, comprehensive case management, financial empowerment (job skills, financial literacy) and fatherhood promotion.
- Grow the number of relatives taking care of children through kinship care instead of foster care. Children do better with blood relative caregivers than with foster parents. Texas needs to help more relatives take care of their own by raising the daily rate for kinship care (it is currently about half of the rate for nonrelative foster parents) and making the licensing process easier for relatives to navigate and for agencies like Buckner to help relatives become permanent homes.
Buckner staff who advocated at the Capitol last week made a strong case for these priorities, and legislators on both sides of the aisle expressed support for our work and priorities. It was clear that, like Buckner, they care deeply about doing the right thing for children and families.
But our work is not done. There are many competing priorities for the Legislature to consider, such as education, health care, infrastructure and the border. Through our new Government Relations team, Buckner will have a consistent presence at the Capitol this session to ensure the best interests of children, youth, families and senior adults are properly considered and met.