Texans who take in abused and neglected children who are related to them could soon have access to monthly payments to help them pay for items like beds, food and clothes.

State senators voted unanimously on Monday to approve House Bill 4, which would increase the amount of money given to relative caregivers.

The measure calls for families to receive about $350 per month per child, instead of what they currently receive: an initial payment of $1,000, plus $500 per year.

The bill is meant to provide ongoing support to families "to ensure that those children do not end up in our foster care system," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Charles Schwertner, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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The increased payments are expected to cost the state $32.5 million for the 2018 and 2019 budget years. The House can now decide whether to send the proposal to a House-Senate conference committee or to accept the Senate's changes and send the bill to the governor.  

The bill comes as legislators race through the final days of the legislative session to pass bills changing how the Department of Family and Protective Services helps abused and neglected children. Kinship care, in which relatives take in children who have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, has been seen as one way to prevent kids from cycling in and out of the foster care system. While families often take them in out of love, they sometimes struggle to provide for them financially. 

Rachel Cooper, senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, said in a news release that while HB 4 is a good step, Texas legislators should not rest yet. She pointed out that the bill would only help the 10,000 children in formal kinship placements through Child Protective Services. There are still 250,000 Texas children who are living with relatives but not officially part of the kinship care system who need help, she said.

"Although the modest subsidy in this legislation would be well below the true cost of raising a child, it is still a meaningful improvement over the current system," Cooper said.

Child welfare advocates have called on the Legislature in recent years to increase the amount of money given to kinship care families.

Madeline McClure, CEO of TexProtects, said in a news release that data has shown children "usually have better outcomes when placed with relatives who already know and love them."

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"Increasing monetary assistance to these relatives, such as grandparents on a fixed income, will ultimately pay dividends by sending fewer children into the more expensive foster care system where children languish longer and experience multiple moves," McClure said. 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • After a lengthy debate, the House passed Senate Bill 11, a measure that would have Texas shift to a "community-based care" model for handling some endangered children and allowing contracted organizations — not just the resources-strapped state — to monitor children in foster care and adoptive homes.
  • After months of calls from advocates to take drastic measures, both chambers unanimously passed bills on Wednesday that would change how the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services cares for vulnerable 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.
  • 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.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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