When federal District Judge Janis Graham Jack ruled last month that the state foster care system endangers Texas children, she harshly criticized the state for its halting efforts on an improvement program launched more than five years ago.
A Fort Worth nonprofit, ACH Child and Family Services, formerly known as All Church Home, runs the only active part of that improvement program. ACH has put more than a year of intense, dedicated effort and a significant amount of its own money into the effort called Foster Care Redesign.
Unfortunately, Jack had no evidence before her about the ACH work on behalf of foster children in Tarrant and six other Texas counties: Johnson, Parker, Palo Pinto, Hood, Somervell and Erath.
The trial of the legal case under which Jack issued her ruling came less than a year after ACH’s work began.
Foster Care Redesign is on the right track, says Wayne Carson, chief executive officer of ACH.
Its primary weakness: As with many social services in Texas, the state has not put enough money into Foster Care Redesign to allow it to meet its ambitious goals.
ACH began its efforts in September 2014, and in the first year its funding came up $1.2 million short. The nonprofit’s board expects to spend $5 million of its own money before the three-year contract runs out.
“We really believe this model can bring about change,” says Carson.
Foster Care Redesign attacks the primary problem of the foster care system in Texas: its sheer size. At any given time, the system serves about 28,000 children who are wards of the state.
Under the old way of doing things, the state ran the entire system from Austin, contracting with around 300 private agencies to place foster children in homes.
There was no centralized effort to make sure the number of beds fit the need or that the full array of services foster children require could be supplied in every area. Children frequently were placed in foster homes far from the cities in which they previously lived and where their parents and siblings might still live.
Foster Care Redesign puts agencies like ACH in charge of fixing those problems by running foster care in specific geographic areas. But ACH is the only such agency working so far — seven Texas counties down, 247 to go.
Texas must not lose the help it is getting from ACH, and courts should make sure of it.