DFPS to expand life skills assessment to younger foster youth

Under a new law enacted by the Texas Legislature this year, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) must conduct independent living skills assessments for a wider age range of youth in foster care. The assessment is used to identify the types of assistance youth may need to prepare for adult life outside the foster care system.

SB 1758 by Zaffirini, which took effect September 1, requires the assessment for youth in DFPS permanent managing conservatorship who are 15 years old and for all youth in DFPS conservatorship who are at least 16 years old. Starting September 1, 2018, DFPS also must conduct assessments for 14-year-olds in permanent managing conservatorship. Before the new law took effect,  DFPS conducted the assessment, which is in an online self-reporting format, around a youth’s 16th birthday.

The independent living skills assessment is provided by DFPS through the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program, which is designed to prepare foster youth for adulthood. It measures competency in eight areas: daily living (food preparation, home maintenance, and computer basics); self-care (personal health and hygiene); relationships and communication; housing and money management; work and study; career and education planning; personal goals; and permanency (ability to establish permanent connections within a youth’s community and biological or adoptive family). SB 1758 requires DFPS to update each assessment annually, coordinating with the youth, the caseworker and caregiver, and PAL program staff to ensure youth receive information and training relevant to their age.

Assessment results are used to develop plans, including training, to help youth in foster care cultivate skills needed to transition into adulthood. Training emphasizes health and safety, housing and transportation, job readiness, financial management, life decisions, and social relationships.

Under the new law, for a child in DFPS conservatorship whose permanency goal is another planned permanent living arrangement, the court must determine at the permanency hearing whether DFPS conducted the mandatory assessment. The court also must confirm that the child has received certain identification documents.

Supporters of SB 1758 said it would improve outcomes for foster youth and strengthen DFPS accountability. Reports indicate some foster youth are not adequately prepared to live independently and are prone to unemployment and homelessness after they exit the foster care system. Requiring DFPS to conduct an assessment for foster children in permanent managing conservatorship who are at least 14 years old would give these children more time to transition as self-sufficient adults.

Supporters also said the bill would enhance accountability by requiring courts to verify that foster children received their legal documents, such as Social Security cards and birth certificates, and their medical history information, depending on the foster child’s age. Timely receipt of these documents would help foster children apply for jobs, college, and housing, if necessary.

Critics of SB 1758 said providing a life skills assessment to more youths annually would cost the state $2.4 million in fiscal 2018-19 and about $1.1 million each year thereafter. They said the assessment is an ongoing expense and that the Legislature should consider spending that money on other priorities.

by Alison Hern

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