Senate Health and Human Services Committee members voted unanimously Wednesday morning to send a bill aimed at overhauling the state's child welfare system to the full Senate for a vote.

Proponents say Senate Bill 11 would provide long-sought fixes to how the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services takes care of abused and neglected children. The issue was dubbed one of four emergency items by Gov. Greg Abbott, allowing lawmakers to take up the issue earlier in the legislative session.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and lead author of the bill, said protecting vulnerable children was part of the state’s “single greatest responsibility."

The legislation will “ensure moving forward with a foster care and kinship system that better serves children and families,” Schwertner said during the meeting, in which the committee approved a variety of changes to the bill.

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The bill adds a number of new provisions that the Department of Family and Protective Services would have to include in their contracts with organizations interested in participating in the state's community-based care program. Contracted organizations would have to be willing to provide case management for children and families under foster care and kinship care. The organizations would also have to agree to provide support services after a child is returned to their family and undergo a performance review by the department. They would also agree to be subject to financial penalties if they do not meet these requirements.

Other changes include requiring quarterly reports on how providers are stacking up with performance quality metrics, requiring managed care organizations be notified of a child’s placement change within 24 hours and requiring children under conservatorship to have medical exams within three days of entering into the system. 

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, one of the co-authors of SB 11, said in a news release that "this isn't a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, it's a Texas issue." 

"Every legislator in this building understands how important it is to fix the gaps in our foster care system and I hope we continue to see a united effort to protect the children of Texas," Watson said. "This is progress."

House members are also moving forward with child welfare legislation of their own. Earlier this week, the House Human Services committee approved floor votes for House Bill 4, which would provide payments for grandparents and other relatives who take care of abused and neglected children in their families, and House Bill 5, which would make the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services a standalone agency. 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas children facing abuse and neglect is set to be a major issue during this year's session as legislators grapple with less funding, a federal court case and troubling headlines about failings at the Department of Family and Protective Services.
  • Advocates and families testified all day in front of House Human Services members Monday as legislators buckled down to look at key bills that would overhaul how the state takes care of endangered children. 
  • Standing in front of the Capitol in 80-degree heat earlier this month, attendees gathered at a rally urging legislators to make long awaited changes to how the state handles abused and neglected children.
  • Taking in grandchildren can keep them out of the state's foster care system, but Texas often doesn't help grandparents who step up to do it.
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