Foster care system redesign starts next year in North Texas

Posted Saturday, Sep. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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State and national news media have drawn much attention to the July 31 death of 2-year-old Alexandria Hill while she was in the Texas foster care system in Rockdale. The story is heartbreaking.

When someone fails to protect children who have suffered abuse or neglect, the public should know and people should be held accountable. The safety of this vulnerable population must be secured.

A balanced discussion about foster care is incomplete without mentioning that the majority of foster parents are incredibly talented, caring and dedicated. Being a foster parent is a mission, not a job.

These amazing people help children heal from abuse and neglect through hundreds of daily interactions intended to communicate safety, love and hope.

State data in 2012 indicated 99.9 percent of children placed in substitute care were safe from further abuse or harm during their placement.

Certainly nothing less than 100 percent is acceptable — but clearly, most foster homes are loving safe-havens for children.

Still, there is more to this story. Other, less tragic challenges continue to prevent children from getting the best care possible.

Foster children in Texas are too often separated from their brothers and sisters, placed far away from home or wait too long for a safe, permanent home. These challenges are bad for kids and have not gone unnoticed.

As chief executive officer of ACH Child and Family Services, I’m a member of an appointed state committee called the Public-Private Partnership. We work to define strategies for improvement in the foster care system.

The state Department of Family and Protective Services began implementing significant changes last year in a project called Foster Care Redesign, which aims to completely change how foster care services are procured, evaluated and organized. Our mandate is clear: Improve foster care services for children!

In North Texas, Foster Care Redesign will be launched next year in Erath, Hood, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Parker, Somervell and Tarrant counties.

No claims that the system has improved can be made until results are measured, but experts will be closely monitoring our efforts.

It will also be important for the public to pay attention to this project. These are Texas’ children, and a strong public voice demanding quality care is necessary and powerful.

North Texas has a slight edge because we take ownership. Here, these are not considered “state kids” or “foster youth” — these are “our kids.”

Our community’s professionals already collaborate to maximize resources.

MHMR of Tarrant County, JPS Health Network, the Cook Children’s healthcare system, Tarrant County Juvenile Services, the Fort Worth school district and many other providers work closely with us to best meet the needs of these youth.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is also a leading advocate for these children in Austin.

The potential for meaningful improvement is here in our back yard.

In a system where funding is stretched, challenges are large and stakes are high, Foster Care Redesign is the most significant effort toward real improvements in decades. This does not excuse any tragedy, but it does give hope for a better future.

Wayne Carson is chief executive officer of the nonprofit ACH Child and Family Services, formerly All Church Home for Children.

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