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This bill would make the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) a standalone state agency instead of remaining under the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). This effectively removes the HHSC executive director out of the chain of command of DFPS. Significantly, the DFPS commissioner would now be appointed by the governor and serve at the governor’s pleasure rather than being appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the HHSC executive commissioner.
The bill sets for the provisions for the structure and administration of DFPS as an independent state agency and creates a nine-member Family and Protective Services Council to advise the agency. Some current DFPS functions would remain with HHSC, however, allegations of abuse and neglect at a child care facility, including a residential child care facility, would remain within the purview of DFPS.
DFPS would be required to contract with HHSC for the provision of administrative services. HHSC already provides those services so in practice nothing in this area would change except the nature of the relationship between the agencies.
DFPS is an agency in crisis that has been widely acknowledged to be inadequate in fulfilling its responsibilities. Bureaucratic rot that allows children in the foster system to be placed in abusive situations, including some situations where children have died, is inexcusable.
The entire reason for an agency such as DFPS to exist is because as a society we agree that even though children are almost always best reared by their own parents, there are unfortunate and extreme circumstances that require state intervention up to and including placing children in a foster home and terminating parental rights. In these extreme situations, great caution must be taken to ensure that children are placed with loving caregivers who will care and provide for them better than the parents they were separated from. To the extent that DFPS has been negligent in performing this basic duty consistently, it is clear that something must change.
With that background having been noted, we looked at this bill through the lens of our liberty principles the same way we would look at any other bill and came to a determination that HB 5 neither uplifts nor offends our liberty principles.
While this bill may help cut red tape and allow DFPS to operate more efficiently and perform its duties to a more acceptable level, that is speculative. It is possible that the net result of this bill could be nothing more than a reshuffling of responsibilities with no actual measurable increase in performance. Since there is no way for us to determine whether these changes will produce their desired effect we are unable to make a connection between this bill and our liberty principles. For these reasons we remain neutral.