A Broken System

I am sure by now you have heard the name Leiliana Wright. Last month, the Grand Prairie four-year old was tied up, choked and beaten to death. In the months preceding her death, attempts had been made to involve Child Protective Services (CPS) in what had become a very dangerous situation for this young child. Sadly, due in part to inaction by the state agency charged with protecting Texas children from abuse and neglect, her innocent life was cut short.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated case of a child tragically “falling through the cracks.”

CPS has long been impacted and overwhelmed by an incredible demand for their services. In part due to a lack of adequate funding, the agency has far too often failed to protect our most vulnerable young Texans. In learning about the breakdown in the system in Leiliana’s case, it is apparent that this agency is in crisis.

We all know that a CPS caseworker’s job is hard and stressful and that the pay is low. Last fiscal year, more than one-quarter of the state’s CPS workers left; 59 percent of those had worked for the agency for three years or less. In Dallas County, from September through November of last year, the turnover rate was an astonishing 57 percent. Since many leave in the first few years of service, the amount of institutional knowledge is limited, further eroding CPS’ ability to protect abused and neglected children.

CPS isn’t alone in failing our children. The foster care system, designed to protect the children taken out of harmful situations by CPS, is also in dire need of repair.

Last month, it was reported that children are sleeping in CPS offices and state mental health facilities due to a lack of foster care facilities and homes. This comes just four months after United States District Court Judge Janis Jack found the state’s foster care system to be unconstitutional. To address this dire situation, last month, Jack named two special masters to overhaul the CPS and foster care system.

In the December 17, 2015 court order, Jack stated,

“Texas’s foster care system is broken, and it has been that way for decades. It is broken for all stakeholders, including DFPS employees who are tasked with impossible workloads. Most importantly, though, it is broken for Texas’s PMC (permanent managing conservatorship) children, who almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.

Texas should embrace the opportunity to work with Judge Jack and the special masters to develop immediate reforms. Unfortunately, Attorney General Ken Paxton continues to appeal and is filing motions against supposed “federal overreach.” Now is not the time for those partisan games, and Paxton needs to stop dragging this out through the courts.

In an interview with NBC5, while discussing the enormity of this situation, I stressed that “…if there was ever an emergency in state government, the failure that we are seeing right now in CPS to protect vulnerable children from serious injury is it.”

This is a crisis. And one that we must address now.

Earlier this week, the Abbott administration announced new leadership at the Department of Family and Protective Services. I wish these new appointees the best; they have a very difficult job in front of them. I hope they can quickly identify and implement dramatic improvements. However, if they find the changes they need require legislative action, then Governor Abbott must call a special session of the Legislature. The bottom line is, this can’t wait until the 2017 legislative session. There are too many children’s lives at stake.

Chris

PS: April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you would like to learn how to help prevent child abuse in your community, visit the child advocacy center for Tarrant County, Alliance For Children, or Texas CASA.

Mental Health and Our Kids

“What weighs on me the most as a pediatrician is that adults with mental illness say their symptoms began in childhood and we missed most of them when they presented in front of us…More children in Texas suffer from mental illness than we would otherwise expect, which really speaks to the unfortunately hidden nature of these conditions.”

Anu Partab, MD, Pediatrician
Testimony, House Select Committee on Mental Health, March 22, 2016

Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and seventy-five percent by age 24.

Please take a moment and let that sink in. It is a startling statistic and one that should not be ignored.

Last week, I was in Austin for the House Select Committee on Mental Health hearing, where the focus was child and adolescent mental health. We spent several hours hearing from health care providers, educators and others on the frontline of this critical issue. It quickly became clear that while many in our state are doing great work and finding innovative ways to address this issue, there is much more that needs to be done.

I am still processing much of what was said, but my initial takeaway is this: it is critical that we improve access to care, increase early intervention and find innovative ways to address an overwhelming need. Ultimately, the more resources we bring to bear to address children’s mental health care — time, money and people — the more likely we will achieve better educational outcomes, lower rates of incarceration and keep more of our neighbors off the streets.

The first step is to increase access to care. According to the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, in Texas each year more than 525,000 children experience severe mental health needs. Thirteen percent of youngest kiddos — ages 2 to 7 — have a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. With a shortage of child psychiatrists and other providers, many of these kids and their families simply do not have the ability to access care. This isn’t isolated to children; the lack of providers, as well as a lack of mental health coverage, extends to adult Texans as well. We must focus more attention on training and retaining mental health providers, as well as decreasing the stigma associated with receiving mental health care.

The second step is to focus on early intervention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children receive an annual mental health screening as a part of their well-check. Based on information provided during the committee hearing, children accessing care through Medicaid only receive one screening between the ages of 12 and 18. I brought this issue to the attention of the state’s Medicaid director and asked why the state was not following the AAP’s guidelines. This must be addressed and it’s an issue I will continue to push. We must also ensure that educators and other school staff have the tools they need to be able to recognize mental health concerns and once they do, have a place to refer a child in need of care.

Finally, we must share best practices, as well as find new and innovative ways to address this issue. We heard testimony from representatives from several school districts who have partnered with private counseling centers or the local mental health authority and brought mental health care services to their school campuses. The impact of these counseling centers has been incredible, and according to those who testified, has resulted in higher graduation rates, lower suspension rates and a more positive atmosphere on the campuses served. Funded largely through 1115 Waivers, these programs may not work in every community, but are definitely a step in the right direction and the model should be shared across our state. It is this sort of outside-the-box thinking that is needed.

th2016Children’s mental health should be a top priority during the next legislative session. If we take real steps to address this issue and make the investments needed, it will result in long-term success and positive outcomes for generations to come.

I have heard from many of you on this issue and invite you to continue the discussion regarding mental health by emailing me at chris.turner@house.texas.gov or by visiting my Facebook page.

If you would like, we can discuss your thoughts in person at my upcoming Town Hall meeting on April 9 from 10:00 to 11:30 am at the Arlington Municipal Airport.

Chris

 

Town Hall – April 9, 2016

th2016Please join Representative Chris Turner to share your views and discuss the critical issues impacting Arlington, Grand Prairie and the State of Texas.

If you would like more information, please call 817-459-2800 or email chris.turner@ house.texas.gov today!

 

You can download a PDF copy of this invitation here.

Making Progress: TX101 Task Force Updates

Nearly two years ago, I hosted more than 100 constituents and community leaders for “Texas 101 Day,” to discuss acute issues impacting Arlington and Grand Prairie. By the end of day, working together, we identified several key topics we believed were not receiving adequate attention and began to brainstorm potential solutions to address these needs.

The most important key to success is for citizens, the business community, Faith leadership, non-profits and all levels of government to work together to affect change in our community.

As a result of that first meeting, we formed our Texas 101 Task Force focused on four key areas: healthcare, predatory lending, transportation and local economy and jobs.

Fast forward to today. We are seeing meaningful movement on some of these key issues, and I am proud that our Task Force members have been involved in these efforts.

Transportation

Last week, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on the final version of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority’s (The T) Master Plan. Among other things, this plan addresses the lack of public transit in Arlington.

A few months ago, the Texas 101 Task Force was briefed by The T’s leadership and provided input regarding the draft plan and the transit needs in our community. Now included in the T’s proposal are recommended Rapid Bus routes throughout Arlington and District 101 along Pioneer Parkway and Arkansas Road to Great Southwest Parkway, Cooper Street to HWY 287, and a route down Matlock Road to Tarrant County College’s Southeast Campus. I appreciate that The T incorporated some of the feedback that Task Force members and I provided into this plan.

Of course, it only gets harder from here. Now that there’s a plan, we need to work with local leaders and our institutions of higher education, including UT Arlington and Tarrant County College, to figure out how to make this plan — or something similar — a reality.

Predatory Lending

In November, the City of Arlington became the 29th Texas municipality to approve an ordinance to crack down on predatory payday and auto-title lenders by limiting loan amounts, as well as loan frequency. My office provided the City with legislative and regulatory background at both the state and federal levels as it considered this ordinance and our Task Force joined local faith leaders, consumer organizations and others to actively support this important policy.

Right now, Grand Prairie is considering a similar ordinance, which has now been passed in 34 municipalities, covering 9.3 million Texans. Our Task Force is focused on this effort, which will help protect Grand Prairie families from getting trapped in a cycle of debt.

I want to thank our Task Force members and my staff for their hard work on these issues. In a short amount of time, our Task Force has been effective, but there’s still much more to do. In order to have the most impact, we need your voice. Contact me by emailing chris.turner@house.texas.gov to get involved. Also, watch your email or my Facebook page for news about our 2016 Texas 101 Day.

Chris

PS: Mark your calendar for Saturday, Saturday, April 9. From 10:00 to 11:30am, I will be hosting a Town Hall Meeting at the Arlington Municipal Airport, 5000 S Collins St, Arlington, TX 76018. For more details, call 817-459-2800. All are welcome and I hope to see you there.

I’m for Hillary

hillary

Early voting for the Texas primaries begins next Tuesday, February 16. I hope you will vote in the Democratic Primary and join me in voting for Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.

I’m supporting Hillary because she is a proven leader with the experience, judgement and values I want to see in our next president.

Hillary has the most experience of anyone running for President on either side of aisle. As First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has proven to be unmatched in dealing with the challenges that the president must face.

But experience alone does not a president make – our president must have sound values to guide her actions. Whether it was helping create the Children’s Health Insurance Program as First Lady, opposing irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy as a senator or advocating for human rights across the globe as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has proven time and again she has the values and the right priorities to be our president.

The stakes in the 2016 election could not be higher. It’s imperative that Democrats win the election so that we can build on the tremendous progress our country has made under President Obama. The Republicans are determined to undo the good work President Obama has done on the economy, health care, the environment and foreign policy – we can’t let them do that, and we sure can’t let Donald Trump or Ted Cruz appoint the next 2-4 Supreme Court Justices.

Make no mistake about it – Republicans will come after Hillary with their big-moneyed powerful interests, as they’ve done for the last 25 years with all sorts of falsehoods and innuendo. But Hillary knows how to fight back and win – with facts not fiction, with class not crass and with iron-willed grit and determination. We need someone who will fight for all of us and Hillary is that champion.

Hillary Clinton’s commitment to strengthening the middle class by tackling income inequality and improving access to education, along with her determination to protect civil rights and correct racial injustices, makes her my choice for president. She has the values to do what’s right, the experience and know-how to get things done and the backbone to stand up and fight.

I am proud to support Hillary Clinton and I hope you will, too.

Chris

PS: Hillary’s campaign is ramping up in Texas. If you want to get involved in the campaign, visit her website and for Tarrant County folks, check the Tarrant for Hillary Facebook page for the latest news and updates.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This week and next, I will be joining many of our neighbors at events honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During these celebrations of Dr. King’s life, we will often be reminded of his work fighting each and every day for equality and justice for all. I hope you will join me in honoring his legacy and his work not just this week or next, but each and every day of the year.

It’s easy to be distracted by the divisive rhetoric we hear in our state and country sometimes, especially in the midst of a presidential election. But as Dr. King understood so well, our diversity is a strength, not a weakness, and the differences we have pale in comparison to our shared goals and values. It’s up to us to remind others – and ourselves– of this and speak out against those who would divide us. We must be vocal advocates for our communities, our nation and our world. In Dr. King’s words, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Chris


P.S. I hope to see you at one of the many MLK events in our community this weekend, which take place Friday through Monday:

Events in Arlington 

MLK Advancing The Dream Awards Banquet Four-Day Celebration KICK OFF
Friday, January 15; 6:30 pm
Bluebonnet Ballroom, UT Arlington E. H. Hereford University Center, 300 W. First St
Tickets $45 – purchase at www.utatickets.com.

MLK Step Show Competition
Saturday, January 16; 11:00 am
Bowie High School Auditorium, 2101 Highbank Drive
Featuring Elementary, Junior High & High School step team performances.  $10 admission at door – $5 admission for elementary students and all children under age 5.

MLK Multicultural Festival
Saturday, January 16; 3:30pm
Tarrant County College Southeast Campus, 2100 Southeast Parkway.
Free admission! Join us as we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King through music, food, cultural dance and more!

An Evening of Spoken Word
Saturday, January 16; 7:00pm
UT Arlington Bluebonnet Ballroom, 300 W. First St.
$1,000 cash prize to winning poet! $20 admission – www.utatickets.com.

MLK Hubert Moss Ecumenical Service
Sunday, January 17; 6:00pm
Most Blessed Sacrament Church, 2100 N. Davis Drive
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Evelyn Parker, Dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. MLK Holiday Reception follows service hosted by the Arlington XI Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

MLK Day of Service
Monday, January 18; 9:00am
Volunteers meet at City Hall, 101 W. Abram St. for assignments
Make it a day on, not a day off. Sign up at www.arlingtonMLK.com. Continental breakfast made possible by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

The MLK Festival
Monday, January 18; 9am to 1pm
Levitt Pavilion in Downtown Arlington
Will feature live performances, art, food trucks and fun!

MLK Youth Musical Extravaganza
Monday, January 18; 6:30pm
Fielder Road Baptist Church, 1323 W. Pioneer Parkway, Arlington (Metro Center)
Free admission! Featuring a 400-voice elementary choir, soloists, first place step team winners, scholarship recipients and more!

Events in Grand Prairie 

The Grand Prairie NAACP Branch 2016 MLK March/Parade.
Monday, January 18; 10:00am (parade lineup at 9:00am at the Liberty Bell on 317 College St.)
Liberty Bell on 317 College St and end at David Daniels Elementary Academy on S.W. 19th Street. MLK Annual Program will be held at Grand Prairie High School immediately after the parade.

Events in Mansfield

Bethlehem Baptist Church Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration
Sunday, January 17; 5:00pm
Bethlehem Baptist Church, 1188 W. Broad St., Mansfield


Mental Health

Last month, the Speaker of the House announced the creation of the House Select Committee on Mental Health, appointing thirteen lawmakers to address a complex issue that touches every Texan in one way or another. As the only Tarrant County legislator on this committee, I look forward to the opportunity to better understand our community’s concerns on this topic and share them with my colleagues in the Legislature.

Beginning early next year, the Committee will start to take a serious look at current mental health and substance abuse services and how state agencies, in partnership with local governments and other entities, can collaborate to address critical needs across our state.

My staff and I have recently spent a great deal of time learning about what state agencies, local governments, first responders, school districts, non-profits, and others are doing to address mental health care. We’ve learned a lot already but know that we’ve just scratched the surface of this very complicated issue.

There’s a few things I am already certain of, though – mental health issues do not discriminate, every Texan is impacted and there are not enough resources to offer adequate support to those in need.

It’s also apparent that early intervention is needed as a key component to addressing many of the issues associated with chronic mental health issues, including incarceration, homelessness and drug use.

Here’s a sobering statistic shared by Texans Care for Children — one half of chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and 75 percent begins by age 24. With that in mind, it’s critical that we focus attention on access to services in our schools, colleges and universities. Doing so is an important step in addressing the long-term impact of mental health issues, and may help reduce the number of Texans in our prisons and jails and the number of our homeless neighbors on the street.

In addition, we must also take a hard look at mental health services for our veterans. As you know, improving access to veterans’ services is an important issue to me. With Texas being home to the second-largest veterans population in the country, many of whom are combat veterans, addressing mental health care for our veterans is critical. It is one reason why I passed the measure to create the Veterans Cash lottery ticket, which, in just six years, has raised over $50 million for services for veterans and their families, including funding for critical mental health and PTSD care.

Daily, our local law enforcement and fire departments see the need for additional mental health services in our communities. Often, they are the ones called upon during mental health crises. We must listen to our first responders to better understand the challenges they face, especially in terms of finding mental health treatment services and care for those in need.

I could go on. There’s so many areas that need to be studied and addressed. So many people who need care.

This post is in part about providing information, but also to seek your help. As we continue to study mental health, I would like to hear from you. I want to get your thoughts on the state of our mental health care system; to hear about what you think is working and what is not, and to share any personal experience or anecdote which you think may be helpful.

Send me a message at chris.turner@house.state.tx.us.

I look forward to hearing from you.

It’s Time to Reform the Predatory Lending Industry

Interest and fees trap low-income families in a cycle of debt | 850 vehicles a week repossessed by auto-title lenders | Legislature must act

Image: A loan store on South Cooper Street in Arlington. Khampha Bouaphanh Star-Telegram

BY CHRIS TURNER
Special to the Star-Telegram

Can you imagine taking out a $500 loan and it costing more than $1,100 to pay it back?

Every day in the Fort Worth-Arlington metro area, many of our neighbors are doing just that and paying up to 484 percent in interest and fees on small, short-term “payday” and auto-title loans.

These absurd interest rates are completely legal in Texas, due to the inaction of the Legislature, which refuses to pass meaningful reforms to rein in what is largely an unregulated industry.

As a result, payday and auto-title lenders are allowed to charge unlimited interest and fees, effectively trapping low-income families in a cycle of debt.

 

Veterans Day

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude.”

– President Harry S. Truman

Today we honor the men and women whose bravery and commitment to defend our freedom has made our nation great. In the words of President Truman, the service of these incredible men and women can never be repaid and they have indeed earned our undying gratitude. Today and every day, we should celebrate our nation’s heroes.

As we pause today to thank our veterans, we must not forget their families and the countless sacrifices they have made.

Please join me in paying tribute to those who have served our nation and fought to protect our freedom. They have truly earned our lasting respect and gratitude.

Chris

Turner Named to Select Committee on Mental Health

AUSTIN — Earlier today, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus named Representative Chris Turner (HD 101-Grand Prairie) to the House Select Committee on Mental Health. The committee is charged with examining the current status of mental health care in Texas, as well as identifying what areas need to be addressed.

In response to his appointment, Turner released the following statement:

“Mental health care is a critical issue that impacts every person in our state. I am honored to serve on this important committee and grateful that Speaker Straus has made this issue a top priority.

“Over the next year, I look forward to learning more about what programs and initiatives have worked in addressing our state’s mental health needs, as well as exploring gaps which exist.

“With the second largest population of veterans in the nation, we must delve deeply into how veterans’ mental health is being addressed and what more can be done to prevent military and veteran suicide and homelessness.”

Turner brings with him extensive experience working on issues impacting veterans, including passing legislation which has led to tens of millions of dollars in funding for organizations which aid veterans and their families.

In 2014, Turner was elected to serve his third term in the Texas House of Representatives and his second term representing District 101, which includes major portions of Arlington and Grand Prairie. In addition to the House Select Committee on Mental Health, Turner serves on the House Committees on Higher Education, Ways and Means, and General Investigating and Ethics. Turner is the only member from Tarrant County to be appointed to the committee.

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