Sometimes I feel like the little boy that cried wolf. For well over a decade there has been a concentrated effort on the part of many to eliminate children’s homes, boarding schools and other kinds of congregate care facilities from being a part of the continuum of care available to children. Those who push against the services provided by agencies like those where I work, use a broad paintbrush to denigrate and falsely portray the lifestyle and quality of care children receive.
I spent seventeen and a half years working for the State of Texas in provision of child welfare related services. Fifteen of those years were in residential childcare licensing. Until passage of the Child Care Licensing Act of 1975 (now know as Chapter 42 of the Human Resources Code), Texas did not regulate the provision of care for children over the age of fourteen. When the law increased the purview of regulation and the establishment of minimum standards governing safeguards for children up to age eighteen, they were badly needed. Without a requirement for licensure, standards that protected health, safety and wellbeing and regulation and enforcement to ensure compliance, children were in harms way and subjected to whims of the care provider.
Not everyone who gravitates toward childcare does so because of philanthropic or benevolent reasons concerning children. Probably the majority of folks have children’s best interests in mind, but without a framework or structure for the provision of children’s services, the variations are about as plentiful as the number of stars in the sky.
The licensing act mandated the State’s responsibility for protecting the health, safety and well being for children needing to live away from their families. It was a good law and provided safeguards for children.
Getting back to the little boy that cried wolf, for the past decade I’ve been saying that strategic efforts are being made by anti-congregate care advocates armed with misinformation to eliminate children being placed outside their home in any placement other than the home of a family member or foster family home. But that’s where the line is drawn. The opponents to congregate care are unyielding in disparaging assessment and paint every facility with the same broad brush.
I serve on the board of the Coalition of Residential Excellence, a national organization, located in Washington, D.C. For the past several years our organization has proactively attempted to provide a better and more accurate picture of the services and quality of care provided.
Again this year, legislation similar to that drafted in the preceding year denigrating congregate care and making accusatory allegations related to quality, was of concern to our organization. Fortunately, the law drafted last year including denigrating comments alleging that congregate care produces harm to children, did not pass.
All it takes is one law including a statement that harm and the absence of well-being are associated in any child care setting other than foster care is a guarantee for the eventual elimination of congregate care. This year’s legislation did not include denigrating statements, but it did prohibit Federal funding being used for provision of child care services unless treatment services were indicated. It eliminated programs like ours from receiving remuneration for care. Honestly, most programs like those in the membership of our organization are not dependent on federal or state monies.
You’re probably wondering: “So why does it matter?” It matters because the elimination of congregate care as an option is the first step in eventually doing away with it all together.
At any rate, I’ve said all that to say that for months now, we have tracked the anti-congregate care legislation and attempted to provide a voice of opposition as well as an objective and accurate picture of the services we actually provide. When the legislation didn’t pass before the election, it was thought that we made it through another session without legislative harm to agencies like ours serving children.
On Monday, we received notification that the entire text of the proposed legislation we had been tracking and opposing for months was being added as an amendment to the CARES package. Apparently, several legislators added amendments to the CARES package putting it at about a thousand-page document. Are you ready for this? The notation was made that the odds were very favorable in both the Senate and House for the bill to pass within the next two weeks. Maybe that is why it was being referred to as Christmas tree legislation.
How do you fight city hall, or the State Legislature or the Federal Legislature when amendments are added to bills at the last minute and there is not opportunity for public comment? It is not the process I think of as: “The American Way”. I have mentioned before that I don’t always get it right. Like it or not, what I just described is “The American Way.”
Consequently, I went home from work on Monday very disheartened. It seemed like the dye was cast regardless of efforts to the contrary. In fact, I emotionally succumbed to a posture that we had lost this battle.
Late yesterday afternoon, I received word that the legislation we have been opposing has now been eliminated from the text of the CARES package. You can probably imagine both my shock and dismay coupled with absolute delight to learn that it is no longer on the fast track to becoming law.
All My Best!