Other Voices

Texas must invest in better foster care

Decisions made by Texas lawmakers this week could impact the future and safety of thousands of Texas children.

In 2012, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services launched a bold new initiative to improve programs for children in foster care. They chose seven counties in North Texas, anchored by Tarrant County, for the first urban implementation in the state.

In typical North Texas fashion, local providers have stepped up to the challenge in an initiative called Our Community Our Kids, and exciting results are beginning to emerge.

After just six months of operation, results are impressive: More children are living closer to home, more sibling groups are being kept intact and, most importantly, children are being kept safe while in foster care.

These are life-changing improvements for kids. Problems have plagued state foster care for decades, and solutions have been elusive.

In fact, a child advocacy group from New York recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas on behalf of foster children, contending that these chronic problems have been inadequately addressed and that kids can’t wait any longer.

This new initiative may be part of the solution. Foster Care Redesign is a community-driven model that has shown initial improvements over the previous state system, a good indication that Texas has finally found what it needs to make important changes — changes that help children succeed.

What’s different about Foster Care Redesign?

Many changes are involved, but most notably this approach: 1) allows more decisions to be made locally; 2) holds caregivers accountable for performance; and 3) provides flexibility to use innovative approaches such as therapeutic foster care and kinship care programs.

These tools, coupled with strong partnership from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, have given those who work tirelessly to help children heal from abuse and neglect an ability to create solutions that work locally.

Redesign focuses on what really matters: building a strong system of care for children in desperate need of well-trained, caring adults who understand how to heal trauma.

Despite these impressive early successes, the future of Foster Care Redesign is in jeopardy.

Important decisions about adequately funding this initiative are being made by legislators in Austin this week.

The Senate has included additional funds to help sustain moving forward, but no new funding is currently included in the base budget for the House.

A final budget that supports the Senate recommendations is crucial for continued success.

When children who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect receive timely, high-quality care, their ability to heal is amazing.

However, when the right care is not provided, these children are at high risk.

Volumes of research point to foster children being overrepresented among our homeless population, our prison population and our recipients of long-term mental health services. Foster Care Redesign can turn this tide.

Opportunities to meaningfully improve a state system are rare.

Good foster care is a good investment for Texans. But even more importantly, it’s the right thing to do for Texas’ most vulnerable citizens.

Foster Care Redesign works. We must keep it going.

Wayne Carson is chief executive officer of ACH Child and Family Services. www.oc-ok.org