Senate Bill 6 amends the Education Code, Family Code, Government Code, Human Resources Code, Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and Texas Probate Code to make a number of reforms to the children’s protective services and adult protective services programs, certain related guardianship issues, and other family law matters. It requires the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to adopt a transition plan for the privatization of certain child welfare functions by March 1, 2006, and requires that all substitute care and case management services for children in DFPS managing conservatorship be provided by child-care institutions and child-placing agencies by September 2011.
It also requires enhanced training and reduced caseloads for child protective services caseworkers. The children’s protective services reforms in the bill include provisions relating to tuition and fee exemptions for foster and adopted children, continuing education and other requirements for attorneys ad litem, medical assistance under the Medicaid program for children adopted out of DFPS conservatorship, criminal penalties for certain false reports of child abuse or neglect, response time requirements for certain reported cases based on immediacy and severity of harm to a child, a system for screening less serious cases of abuse or neglect without investigation, the exchange of information with other states, a Texas foster grandparent mentors initiative, funding for various community-based services and programs, facility and agency foster home inspection procedures, conditions under which an application for a license to operate a nonresidential child-care facility may be denied, a caseworker replacement program, requirements for providing certain informational materials, including the development of a child placement resources form, requirements relating to the family service plan, and requirements that the DFPS employ child safety specialists, colocate with local law enforcement agencies that investigate child abuse, and encourage the establishment of a children’s advocacy center in certain counties.
Senate Bill 6 sets out requirements for medical care and educational services for children in foster care, including provisions relating to consent for medical care, parental notification of significant medical conditions, the provision of care in emergency situations, and the development of health and educational passports. The bill directs DFPS to develop and deliver cultural awareness competency training, expand court-appointed volunteer advocacy programs, develop a relative and other designated caregiver placement program, improve quality of investigations, eliminate delays, and establish a drug-endangered child initiative.
The bill requires DFPS to license and register child-placing agency administrators and to enforce related regulations and includes several provisions relating to licensing procedures, requirements, and penalties for administrators and facilities. In addition, the executive director of HHSC is required to establish an investigations division to oversee and direct children’s protective services investigations. The bill also includes several conditions and restrictions related to employment at certain residential facilities, requires a criminal history background check for a prospective employee, and requires facilities to establish a drug-testing policy for facility employees.
Among the provisions relating to the privatization of substitute care, Senate Bill 6 includes regional implementation requirements and a transition plan and goals to be achieved through privatization. The bill transfers certain duties from DFPS staff to independent administrators and requires hiring preference to be given to DFPS employees whose positions are eliminated as a result of the privatization of services. The bill authorizes the DFPS to continue to provide substitute care and case management services beyond the deadline for privatization in certain emergency cases.
The adult protective services reforms in the bill include provisions relating to coordination between DFPS and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board regarding the development of curriculum and degree programs in fields relating to adult protective services, a statewide public awareness campaign designed to educate the public about the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the elderly and disabled persons, and the use of technology to improve the effectiveness of the adult protective services program. The bill requires DFPS to maintain an investigation unit for adult protective services, develop and implement a training program and continuing education program for newly hired or newly assigned adult protective services workers and a case management training program for supervisors, develop and implement a quality assurance program, and develop procedures for investigating complex cases.
Senate Bill 6 requires the executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission to develop risk assessment criteria to determine whether an elderly or disabled person is in a state of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, to develop and implement, subject to the availability of funds, a caseload management reduction plan that provides specific annual reduction targets, and to create a pilot program for monitoring unlicensed and illegally operating long-term care facilities. In addition, the bill authorizes DFPS, subject to the availability of funds, to contract with protective services agencies for the provision of services particularly to elderly or disabled persons in certain rural or remote areas. It also includes provisions relating to the filing of a petition to a court for an emergency protective order based on certain physical and psychological health assessments performed at the direction of the department.
Senate Bill 6 amends the Government Code, Human Resources Code, and the Texas Probate Code to transfer the powers, duties, functions, programs, and funds of the Department of Family and Protective Services relating to guardianship services to the Department of Aging and Disability Services. The bill includes provisions relating to the specific conditions that must be met for an individual to be referred for guardianship, procedures relating to court-initiated guardianship, and the creation of the guardianship certification board to provide for the certification and regulation of guardians.
Finally, Senate Bill 6 amends the Family Code and Penal Code to clarify provisions of the law relating to the offense of bigamy and to increase the penalty for the offense from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony of the third, second, or first degree depending on the age of the person to whom an actor purports to marry or with whom the actor lives under the appearance of marriage.