BY STATE REP. R.D. ‘BOBBY’ GUERRA

This past legislative session, I worked hard to pass HB 2537, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott last week. This mandates that high school counselors must provide information on financial opportunities for post-secondary education to children within the foster care system. Ensuring that these kids know that they have a support system through the state to obtain a higher education is crucial in maintaining that these young students know that with continued hard work they can accomplish so much more.

This new law will allow children who have already been placed in a difficult situation, through no fault of their own, to reap the benefits of resources aimed toward a post-secondary education. By requiring school counselors to discuss financial assistance available to these students who may not have someone encouraging or helping them through the stressful process of applying for college, we can help give these young students a sense of attainability and hope. Through this single piece of legislation, I am proud to have made a small difference in addressing the larger problem of our broken Child Protective Services system.

Other key legislation that was passed during the 85th Texas Legislature includes making the Department of Family and Protective Services — the regulating body that oversees the state’s CPS system — a standalone agency. This will allow it the organizational flexibility to better address its issues more effectively and ensure that we are protecting these children by giving them the attention that they require.

The Legislature also capitalized on the positive results shown from kinship care, which has proven better outcomes for kids when they are kept with a relative who can care for them. The issue of family’s being unable to take these vulnerable kids in due to financial hardship was addressed when the Legislature approved providing roughly $350 per month to help support families who take in and care for abused and neglected children who are their relatives — a greater alternative to placing them in the CPS system.

A federal court ruled in 2015 that the CPS system was violating the constitutional rights of foster kids, due to the fact that children were dying while under the conservatorship of the state. It was our duty and obligation to keep these kids safe, and we failed them. When Gov. Abbott declared fixing the state’s troubled CPS system as one of his emergency items during the recent legislative session, the lawmaking body felt it incumbent to tackle this issue head-on.

The Texas Legislature took on this Herculean task and, I believe, made great strides in attempting to mend the flawed foster care system by passing significant legislation.

We all know that education is the great equalizer, which is why I approached Gov. Abbott’s charge from a scholastic standpoint. Creating more educational opportunities for our students is something I truly believe on a personal and professional level. I found it imperative that the unfortunate situation these kids are in must not hinder their ability to better themselves by pursing a post-secondary education.

I am hopeful that HB 2537 will go a long way in addressing this issue.