Why community-based care is right for Texas’ foster youth

As the Texas Legislature enters the final month of its regular session, we can begin to assess its progress toward making good on the rallying cry — “Let’s get it right” — when it comes to fixing the child protection system.

The good news is that, so far, both as to funding and as to policy, the Legislature is poised to get it right in major respects. In a tight budget year, both the Texas House and Senate have advanced substantial funding increases that will help reduce workforce turnover and increase capacity building by private providers like our organization.

As to policy, our statewide organization has been pleased to support more than 50 pieces of legislation offered by more than 30 bill authors seeking to significantly improve life outcomes for the children and youth who come into state care.

Two major bills, Senate Bill 11 and House Bill 6, would expand on foster care redesign to implement enhanced community-based care.

Under this model, private providers — which might potentially include Upbring and others engaged in this vital work — could assume responsibility for a region and the obligation to work with local stakeholders to implement a model of care most appropriate to that community.

These bills were wisely amended to also allow governmental entities to serve in this capacity, which may be the best solution in some parts of the state. What works for El Paso may not work for Tyler; what works in Corpus Christi may not be best suited for Amarillo. One-size-fits-all does not work well for Texas, nor does it deliver what our young people need during these critical years of their lives.

While there are varying points of view on community-based care, including case management, I hope we can all agree the status quo is simply unacceptable. We must bring to this work a level of innovation that matches our compassion, and we need to raise the bar considerably on what we expect of ourselves in order to provide what each child deserves.

As an example of what it means to raise the bar, the present system is built around safety. Keeping each child safe is obviously important, but far from the only factor that empowers them to successfully grow into the productive and fulfilling adult lives to which they aspire.

Under our continuum approach at Upbring, in addition to providing safety, we seek to provide each child with education, health, life skills and vocation — discovering one’s purpose in life — just as millions of Texas parents do for their children every day. Until we have a system that fully embraces all of what each child needs to be empowered for adulthood, our work will not be complete.

Through proposed increased investment, thoughtful policy and the empowerment of innovation, the Legislature is clearly giving this subject matter the priority attention it deserves in keeping with the governor’s emergency declaration.

We look forward to these crucial final weeks of the session with great hope that the Legislature will indeed “get it right” for the children of Texas.

Disclosure: Upbring has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Kurt Senske

CEO, Upbring