An Outdated Tracking System Is a Key Factor In Texas’ Foster Care Shortcomings
The Texas foster care system has a significant problem with tracking and monitoring health records of the nearly 20,000 children in their custody due to an outdated and unreliable system, which puts the children at risk. The system, known as IMPACT, has been in place since 1996, making it almost as old as Google. Despite a federal judge ordering improvements in 2015, the system’s deficiencies persist. The legislature session is underway, and the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) must modernize its infrastructure to start making any permanent improvements.
Outdated System Leaves Child’s Medical Needs Getting Lost in Transit
IMPACT is meant to be a secure location for foster children’s records, including their health records and histories of neglect and abuse. It doesn’t allow information to be easily added by or shared among state and local health agencies, Medicaid and health care providers. This makes it challenging for medical professionals to access the information they need. As foster children move from place to place, it’s difficult to keep track of their medical needs. The report released earlier this year by court-appointed monitors is full of awful stories and frightening missteps. For instance, a residential treatment center lost track of a 16-year-old boy’s medications, putting his life at risk. This situation could have been prevented if the system was up to date.
Legislative Session Brings Attention to the Issue
The legislative session has brought attention to the issues in the foster care system. The state’s Department of Family and Protective Services has been called in for a series of status hearings to evaluate the system’s progress. The DFPS must start modernizing its technological infrastructure for any lasting improvement to take place. However, whether their pleas will be met with action is still unclear.
Texas One of Four States to Opt Out of Federal Regulatory Requirements
The federal government introduced a new set of regulatory requirements in 2015. States could use them to become part of a national network that would help states to track foster children and their health care needs better. Texas was one of four states that opted out of the program. The state now finds itself in the unprecedented situation of having a budget surplus of $32.7 billion, and the DFPS is bidding to snag some of that windfall. Its commissioner Stephanie Muth said, during an appropriations meeting in February, that priorities for any allocation would include building community-based care teams and increasing pay to boost employee retention. Despite the fact, the IMPACT system is older than Google and has had overwhelming fewer updates; the department isn’t planning to replace or make sweeping changes to IMPACT anytime soon.
A report by think tank Texas 2036 and the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services mentions that transitioning to the new program would cost the state $80 million. It said the state had already spent just over $80 million, since 2015, to maintain its current system. The biggest concern of caseworkers is that IMPACT isn’t capable of supporting data-sharing, also known as interoperability, and flagging potential problems, such as when doctors separately prescribe medications that are dangerous when taken together. Foster children are prescribed psychotropic drugs to treat mental health disorders four times more than other children on Medicaid. But without such a safety net, the responsibility falls to the caseworker.
The foster care system relies on a tracking system that is inadequate for the job. Modernizing the DFPS infrastructure is essential to make lasting improvements and ensure that children’s medical needs don’t get lost in transit. Improving data-sharing capabilities’ uptime is crucial in interoperability to keep tabs on foster children’s well-being. The Texas DFPS must rise above budgetary constraints and make the necessary changes to the system.
The Texas foster care system’s tracking and monitoring of health records are inadequate and outdated. With a budget surplus of $32.7 billion, allowing the DFPS to upgrade the system is critical to prevent the children in the system from harm. Although DFPS officials ask for federal support to cover half the cost of transitioning to a modern tracking system, the state agency must prioritize the safety and care of the children in its custody by implementing the necessary changes. The DFPS must take responsibility for its shortcomings and institute effective remedies for children to have the best shot at their futures.