House Bill 1536—known as the For Our Children Act—would consist of specialized training tailored to different organizations and departments that help children on their way through the welfare system.
Trauma in children can affect development and behavior. Trauma-informed care aims to address and treat these affects while preventing future traumatization, state Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land said.
One effect of abuse and neglect in children includes slowed brain development, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Specifically, the temporal lobes that regulate emotion and receive input from the senses are underactive.
“The issue is trauma and the trauma these kids experience and even the adults experience in the process,” Miller said. “What we’re doing is mandating that anyone who touches the life of a child in the system from the courtroom to the foster home and in between will be trained on trauma and trauma-informed care.”
In 2017, Fort Bend County had 737 documented child abuse cases, according to local nonprofit Child Advocates of Fort Bend.
The trauma-informed care training would teach adults involved with these cases how to connect with abused children as well as provide safety and a trusting environment while preventing retraumatization. Statewide, the cost of rolling out the training programs would cost about $4.5 million, Miller said.
Local organizations like Forever Families in Fort Bend County connects children to adoptive and foster families in Texas. Basic items, such as background checks for potential parents and home visits to check on living conditions, are already in place for adoptive or foster families, Forever Families Chief Marketing Officer Dewan Clayborn said.
A 72-hour training for parents is also required for parents considering adopting or fostering, Clayborn said.
“We talk about the child, their background, different types of emotions to expect,” he said. “In some situations a child has been moved around three or four times, so we help our families understand … they’re hopping on this emotional roller coaster this child has been through already.”
CAFB serves children who are victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. The organization has seen a 58% increase in the number of children served through its Child Advocacy Center in the last five years, CEO Ruthanne Mefford said.
Providing trauma-informed care is something CAFB is focusing on, Mefford said.
“We are very focused on implementing trauma-informed care this year and going forward throughout our agencies—that means with our staff and with our volunteers,” Mefford said.
CAFB is also paying attention to House Bill 123 and Senate Bill 481 that would provide fee waivers for foster children obtaining birth certificates, drivers licenses and other government documents, Mefford said. House Bill 811 and Senate Bill 424 would also help homeless children and foster care children with behavioral issues by requiring in-school suspension only as opposed to out-of-school suspension, Mefford said.
“That’s speaking to the trauma-informed care and being able to understand what children are going through and the precursors and trauma that then may cause them to act out in school or have behavioral issues,” she said. “We want them to not have out-of-school suspension but to rather have the educational system approach these children through a trauma-informed lens.”
There are 11 Child Protective Services regions in Texas, and HB 1536 would place two highly trained CPS representatives in each region to oversee and teach the trainings, Miller said.
Although the Texas Department of Family Protective Services—the organization that oversees CPS—declined to comment on the For Our Children Act while it is still pending in the legislature, the department did outline more funds for foster care services as a priority during the ongoing 86th Legislative Session.
Training around trauma is being practiced already at Forever Families where 200 fosters and adoptions were administered last year, Clayborn said.
“I like the [idea] of trauma-informed care because with a parent taking on a new kid, there is never enough information or training that they could go through because it is going to be an adjustment,” he said.
Clayborn said he felt HB 1536 could be an unfunded mandate because the organization relies on funds from the state. However, he said he feels having more trauma-informed families will lead to a better outcome.
Mefford said CAFB tries to fund training through grants as much as possible, and since the organization already has some form of trauma-informed care implemented, HB 1536 would not be a huge change to the system.
“We have to look for funding for that, so that would be either grand supported or through general donation funding,” she said. “But then what we’re doing is we’re trying to leverage those dollars by getting people trained internally who then can train the trainers.”
As of April 25, HB 1536 was voted out of the House committee on human services with unanimous support from committee members present.
“Once we get this done, we believe and the people that we talked with who work with these children [believe] that these will transform the system,” Miller said. “We won’t have kids moving as much, we will have foster parents who don’t give their kids back. We’ll even have the biological parents going through a process getting this training and they’ll get their kids back. That’s the whole objective. That’s why we call it the ‘For Our Children’ bill.”