Answering the call for Texas’ children

Photo by Todd Wiseman

With the state’s leadership in agreement that Texas’ children in foster care are a top priority this legislative session, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and community organizations that meet the needs of these children have recently received both praise and criticism from all directions.

It’s easy to get lost in finger-pointing and rhetoric. Especially during the legislative session, when important issues are competing for time and space on the legislative calendar and there are only a few weeks left to “get it right,” as Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson underscored early in the session.

Recent articles in the Tribune and other statewide publications have focused on DFPS funding, which has been promoted as both a need and a partial solution to problems facing the Texas foster care system. And even though DFPS recently received much-needed additional funding, there still needs to be sharp focus on funding foster care and the increasing number of high-risk, high-intensity children being served by the system.

In Texas, community-based providers serve more than 90 percent of children in foster care, with the remainder served directly by DFPS.

Our providers wipe the tears, celebrate birthdays and search for the right families to welcome these children into their homes. They offer a network of resources and relationships that are tailored to the needs of each individual child.

It’s a provider who sits with a child at the park waiting on a parent who is supposed to visit. And when the parent doesn’t show up, that caregiver will stay until that child is ready to leave, with tear-stained cheeks and a broken heart. Our providers are there to help children process the disappointment, cope with the layers of pain and trauma, mend that heart and celebrate milestones, big or small. But we can’t continue to maintain this personal and significant good work under the current system. The current structure isn’t set up for success.

The Texas Legislature, on average, has consistently funded only 80 percent of what it costs to provide for children in foster care. On average, community foster care and partner providers who provide specialized services for acutely traumatized children lose money every day they care for a child.

Without full funding for a high-quality system, these providers cannot continue to serve the current needs of the state, and certainly can’t grow or even begin to prepare for added capacity as the state’s population and foster care needs continue to grow. Lack of capacity has resulted in crises like children sleeping in offices or being placed in homes or centers where they do not receive the care they truly need.

Full funding could bring improvements in care that will better support children and families, such as supporting a trauma-informed care model, specialized programs that meet the changing needs of the children and community partnerships and programs to help heal families.

Additionally, local models that are proven to work should be supported and allowed to do what they do best — serve children.

Just a couple of years ago, North Texas became the testing ground for a new state initiative designed to improve the foster care process. This new initiative stipulated that funding be based on performance measures rather than service fees.

This successful community-based approach provides the opportunity for continued state oversight of program funding, while holding community-based partners accountable for improving outcomes for the foster children in their care.

That is why we support Senate Bill 11 and House Bill 6, and urge all Texas legislators to do so as well.

Both bills address critical structural concerns in the foster care system and localize care to meet the needs of Texas children. This legislation also answers the call of the Governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to “…come up with an innovative plan as to how the agency and high-quality providers can partner in solving this challenge.”

All three policy leaders in our state are committed to making a change to address the needs of our most vulnerable children.

The Texas foster care system is not working for children, but we have an opportunity to make a difference, to get it right and to become national leaders in foster care.

Our state’s leaders have urged the private sector and faith-based communities to help address the foster care crisis. Our providers have been answering that call and will continue to do so — because it is what they have been called to do and what they want to do.

They need your help. Give your support to the structural changes offered by SB 11 and HB 6, and the funding to meet all children’s needs.

Our children deserve our love and hope.

Katie Renner Olse

Executive director, Texas Alliance of Child & Family Services