The Chinese word for "crisis" has been quoted as meaning “danger” and “opportunity” (or some translate to “incipient moment” or “crucial point” of change).

The Texas foster care system faces such a moment.

Consider these recent developments:

• A federal appeals court last month ruled that Texas must hire more workers to protect foster children, yet overruled the lower court mandate to increase the number of much-needed foster care homes.

• Hank Whitman, Commissioner of Child Protective Services, recently testified to the Texas House that the Legislature’s actions to significantly increase salaries and hiring more caseworkers succeeded in reducing employee turnover.

This is partial progress. But instead of only asking “How do we house and care for abused children?” we must follow up with “How can we stop children from being abused?”

The missing solution to reduce demand for foster homes is to let Texas shift more funds to prevent child maltreatment.

A new law, the Family First Prevention Services Act allows just that. Federal funds previously reserved only for foster care can now be redirected to investments in evidence-based prevention programs.

Prevention investment represents a shift in policy. Instead of helping children only after they’ve suffered trauma, government is now addressing risk factors in an attempt to avert danger and damage.

In the 2019 legislative session, the governor and Legislature must opt-in to access Family First funding, and then define parameters for eligible children. Family First says investments must be targeted toward children “at imminent risk of entering foster care.”

The type of programs in the new law already exist in Texas and have been proven not only effective — but cost-effective.

Examples include:

• SafeCare: This research-based, in-home program serves caregivers of children from birth to age 5, who have a confirmed child maltreatment incident. Home visits by a trained professional improve caregiver investments in the child’s health, home safety, and positive caregiver-child interaction while reducing child maltreatment. A Casey Family Programs evaluation of SafeCare estimated a cost of $1,950 per family served, offset by savings of $3,563.

• Nurse-Family Partnership: Works with families before an incident occurs. This program has demonstrated a 48 percent decrease in child maltreatment, as well as increased child cognitive development, reduced Medicaid costs and increased family self-sufficiency. The RAND corporation analysis showed a $5.70 return for every $1 invested in the Nurse-Family Partnership.

Family First also directs funds to programs that support family preservation, including short-term, therapeutic supports provided while the child remains with family members.

In fiscal year 2017, a total of 50,293 children spent at least some time in the state’s care. Proven prevention programs could reduce Children Protective Service’s $2 billion budget while saving lives.

We hope the state acts swiftly to implement the court’s order and end the endangerment of our foster care children. Simultaneously, we trust state lawmakers will seize this opportunity provided by Family First to improve Texas children’s lives and make foster care unnecessary.

Madeline McClure is founder and former CEO of TexProtects — Champions for Safe Children.

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