Judge: Expansion of family drug courts can help fix CPS

FILE - Children playing with toys (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Children playing with toys (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The state’s child welfare system continues to struggle with too many abused children, not enough staff to help them and too few foster parents to watch over them.

A major driver of families into the system is substance abuse. The Department of Family and Protective Services says sixty percent of CPS cases are connected to drug or alcohol abuse.

After twenty years in investigating child abuse for Child Protective Services, Susan Rial became a part of the infamous CPS turnover.

“With the huge case loads, you’re juggling cats,” said Rial.

She says there were signs of domestic violence, mental health issues, or substance abuse in every case of child abuse and neglect.

“It’s dangerous and it can be kind of creepy sometimes with people that are impaired,’ said Rial.

Wednesday Travis County Judge Aurora Martinez Jones came to tell lawmakers their family drug court could be key to helping the system in crisis.

“We are keeping kids with their parents so those are kids that don’t have to go into foster care,” said Judge Jones.

The program hopes to get parents drug treatment within six days and bump them up to a routine of drug testing and weekly court visits. If that happens the children will stay with their parents rather than enter a system that can’t handle them.

“We’re providing resources on the front end to prevent the removal. We’re preserving the family as a unit together,” said Judge Jones.

For years Travis County taxpayers have paid for the process, but she hopes the state can put in more to help future caseworkers, like Rial, lower their caseloads.

Child advocates tell KXAN getting lawmakers to put resources up front will be “a very difficult thing”. The legislative session begins this January and the governor has already asked almost every other agency to shave 4-percent of their budgets.

Travis County pays for their program in the following ways:

  1. The Office of the Governor Drug Court Grant was just renewed. The current annual award is for $137,388. This money pays for the drug court coordinator salary, benefits, drug testing services through contracted labs, and supplies such as bus passes or training.
  2. The Children’s Continuum grant from the Travis County Commissioners court, paid for by taxpayers, was awarded for three years at $550,000. It pays for child therapists through Austin Travis County Integral Care, a social service assistant with Travis County health and Human Services and transportation for child appointments.
  3. Children’s Bureau grant of $500,000 for two more years pays for full-time attorney for children and a full time child therapist, part time housing case manager, and a part time research assistant.

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