Local Foster Care Capacity
The ability to serve children in our communities has always been an issue for us in West Texas. Region 9 – the 30-county administrative region comprising West Texas and stretching from Loving County to Mason County – ranked dead last in the placement of foster children within their region and their county of origin in FY2020.
|Children Placed within Region||Children Placed within Home County|
Worse still, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) projects our region to have the capacity over the next 3 years to serve only 50 percent of local foster children with basic and moderate needs and only three percent of children with specialized or intense needs.
Children with basic and moderate needs tend to have been in state custody for a shorter duration, younger in age, and placed in foster homes. Most children with specialized and intense needs are teenagers who have been “in the system” for a while and are mostly placed in residential facilities.
OAK Data Dashboard
One Accord for Kids (OAK) tracks placement data for our region (Region 9) and our community (Permian Basin counties) on a monthly dashboard. The December 2020 dashboard (below) shows where our children come from, what types of placements they are in, and where they are placed. The Permian Basin counties listed have the highest percentage of their children placed out of their home region and county. Although most of the children (299) from Region 9 are in private foster homes, more than half (168) are placed in foster homes outside of West Texas. The table on the bottom shows where our children are – mostly in the Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio metro areas. Nineteen children are placed outside of Texas.
Toddlers and Teens (and In-betweens) Need Homes
Typically, out-of-region placements result from difficulties in finding local foster homes for older foster youth or those with specialized needs (i.e., medical and behavioral health). However, our region uniquely struggles to find foster homes even for our youngest and least challenging foster children. Eighty-eight (88) foster children from West Texas between the ages of 0-9 with basic needs are placed in foster homes outside our 30-county region. Thirty-nine (39) of these are under 3-years-old.
Over 20 percent of children (107 of 522) of local children in licensed foster care (i.e., not with relatives) are placed in residential facilities. These facilities consist of emergency shelters (short-term placements when there is no other option), general residential operations (group homes), and residential treatment centers (a live-in emotional and behavioral health treatment facility). Residential care is a last-ditch option that many children need. Not all residential facilities are bad but some are. A federal judge monitoring the Texas foster care system has been particularly critical of the state’s use of residential care – calling it “simply shocking.” By their very nature, residential facilities are institutions and a poor substitute for a family.
Relationship Between Lack of Capacity and Institutionalization
One in every five children from West Texas in licensed care (i.e., not with relatives) is placed in an institutional setting. That’s 20 percent! The statewide average is 17 percent, which is still too high.
A lack of foster home capacity, including local capacity, results in more short-term placements in emergency shelters and in more long-term placements in group homes and residential treatment centers. In many regions (particularly rural regions like ours), foster home capacity is negatively correlated with the percentage of children in residential facilities — the few foster homes, the more kids in residential care.
Unfortunately, the new system of care being implemented by DFPS has not resulted in fewer residential placements. If anything, the percentage of children placed in institutional settings has increased in regions (particularly rural regions) under the new model – despite increases in local capacity. It appears that the new model is better at making local first placements of basic and moderate children and at moving children from remote foster homes to local foster homes. It seems no better (and maybe worse) at getting and keeping kids out of institutions.
What to Do
The lack of local capacity and its consequences can seem like an intractable and overwhelming problem sometimes, even to those of us in the business of solving systems problems like these. However, our kids can’t afford for us to give up.
There are small steps that each of us can take that will make a big impact. For example, here at One Accord we are starting a project partnership to deliver care packages to local children placed in institutional settings. We are looking for partners and supporters to help brighten the day of children in residential facilities by collecting and assembling fun care packages. If your company or small group wants to sign up to partner, you can do that here. If you want to donate to the effort, you may do that here.
You might consider fostering through one of our partner organizations, any of which would be happy to provide information and answer questions. You might consider supporting those who have stepped to foster by babysitting or volunteering at a foster parent night out.
Ultimately, there are big steps that our community must take to increase foster home capacity and reduce the number of our kids going into institutions. We need to prioritize these kids; develop a local, strategic plan; increase awareness and engagement from the broader community; recruit and support new foster parents; empower existing foster parents to prevent turnover; and increase the availability and quality of local services, including a local residential treatment center for those children who need it. One Accord has been working with local stakeholders to improve our system by doing these things.