As Texas lawmakers decide where to use the state's money, many are making their voice heard.
The Senate Finance Committee room was filled with little faces Tuesday, since they were what much of Tuesday's testimony was about. People were testifying about anything that falls under Health and Human Services. From support to fund foster care redesign to a push to find more money for therapy for children with special needs.
"We believe this approach to care can address some of these chronic problems in Texas,” said Wayne Carson with ACH Child and Family Services.
"His physical therapist has really helped him out,” said a parent to the senate committee.
Mayra Reyes came to the capitol to speak for her son Gerardo who was born with fluid in his brain. He wasn't expected to live more than a year, not to mention use his arms or legs.
"My son is one of those many kids that need therapy,” said Reyes.
She said therapy has changed his life.
"Look at him, he's 4-years old and he's been walking for 6 months," said Reyes.
This will be his last week of therapy for Gerardo. Reyes said it’s partly due to $350 million cuts to Medicaid from last session, that went into effect late last year.
She told lawmakers to restore that money.
"They have to look at the budget and see these kids with special needs, and kids that need therapy really need it,” said Reyes.
Wayne Carson with ACH Child and Family Services spoke to the senators for a different reason.
"Everybody that does foster care reports directly to Austin, in our community everybody works together and we have the ability to manage the kids," said Carson.
He helped launch a pilot program for foster care where decisions are made on the local level.
"It gets communities engaged in how to care for these kids, and we quit thinking about these kids as state kids, and start thinking about them as our kids,” said Carson.
They started pilot program a little more than two years ago in seven North Texas counties. Carson said the non-profit has invested about $6 million into the program.
"They [the state] underestimated the cost of implementing this project would be," said Carson.
He said that money has gone to improvements to the system like a program where local leaders can see where all the foster homes are, and what the availability is.
"There's clear evidence that redesign has some additional costs, but those costs are because we've provided enhancements to the system, we're doing things that have never been done in Texas before," said Carson.
According to Carson, two-thirds of children that go into foster care, go in with a sibling. He said their “redesign” program helps keep siblings together, and reduces the amount of times they move from home to home.
He feels the program is a success, and thinks it should be funded state wide.
Dena Dupie said the issues of therapy and foster care are intertwined. She fostered her daughter Briana at 14 months, later adopting her. She’s now 9. Dupie said her daughter was shaken as a baby, and was diagnosed with fluid in her brain. She said she also has post traumatic epilepsy, and a stroke that caused her to lose control of the right side of her body. She said her daughter needs Physical, Occupational and Speech therapy. Last year she had a lapse in her speech therapy, and returned to stuttering.
"Briana came home crying because of what the kids said to her that day, so not only did she revert back into a state that she wasn't in, but she also suffered trauma," said Dupie.
Dupie said she’s seen therapists leave to find better paying work, and recently learned she’s losing her physical therapist. After hours of searching for a new therapist, she said the state told her she will now have to drive 150 miles to the therapy provider.
"I said, it's acceptable that we're going to have to drive 600 miles a week to get my daughter to her much needed therapy?" said Dupie.
She said that's something foster parents just can't do.
"They changed all foster kids to manage care organization, so now all those children can't get access to services, because no one accepts those MCOs," said Dupie.
Now she has a message for lawmakers.
"Restore the cuts, use the rainy day fund to give back the money and make sure that the money is back in the budget for future years,” said Dupie.
The budget that will now be up to lawmakers to finalize by the end of the session.