The Texas Foster Care Capacity Crisis and Its Solution
This is part two of a two-part series about the ongoing capacity crisis in Texas foster care. Today’s post will discuss the long-term solution to the current capacity crisis.
More Children Without Placement
Our last post discussed the capacity crisis in the Texas foster care system. We discussed the recent uptick in children without placement — children who spent two or more consecutive nights in temporary unlicensed settings like offices and hotels. In April 2021, there were 282 unique children who were without placement at least one during the month.
Since our last post, the May 2021 numbers of children without placement were released — and it’s not good. In May, 310 unique children were without placement for at least two consecutive nights at least one time during the month. That’s a 10 percent increase in one month.
All Hands on Deck
So, enough about the problem. How do we solve it?
First, let’s acknowledge that there are no quick or easy answers. The problem is multifaceted and the solution is complex.
At One Accord for Kids, we advocate for community collaboration as a means to address intractable social problems, like child maltreatment. Communities have diverse resources and needs that cannot be utilized in a top-down system. Ultimately, self-governing communities can provide for the welfare of their citizens through voluntary, reciprocal aid that is more respectful, effective, and efficient than any government program. The best government can do is create an environment that fosters community collaboration, sometimes by getting out the way.
Those of us involved in the child welfare system have been guilty of blaming the state child welfare agency (CPS) and waiting for it to fix itself. Yet, at least in the current crisis, CPS is working at maximum capacity. CPS caseworkers are working overtime to care for those 310 children in offices and hotels. In addition to the state’s foster children, our frontline child welfare workers need us to get this right.
Community-based care has been offered as a silver bullet to fix all things wrong with the state’s foster care system. If you haven’t heard of CBC, we have written about the history, model, stages, and implementation of this new system of care.
CBC implementation has had its problems. The process evaluator analyzing CBC rollout described the state’s implementation efforts to date as “random, chaotic, and trial-and-error.” At a minimum, what we have seen so far from CBC is less a community-level model and more a repackaged state-run system.
Most recently, the community provider of CBC service in Bexar County pulled out rather than face state-imposed contract penalties of $25,000 per child for the children without placement under its care.
Nevertheless, CBC has proven much, much better at growing local foster care capacity than its state-run counterpart. Over the last two years, Texas has added 319 new foster homes. 275 of those homes were added in the four regions that have transitioned to CBC. CPS still manages 13 regions serving 80 percent of children in foster care. Those state-run regions only managed to add 44 new foster homes.
Data on foster home growth over the last year magnifies this disparity. The 13 state-run regions lost 107 net foster homes while CBC regions added 53 homes.
The philosophy and flexibility of the CBC model provides an opportunity to strengthen local foster care systems and increase capacity. However, the current approach to implementation will not result in sustainable change and may make things worse. Our next blog series will discuss ways to rethink CBC implementation to rescue it from bureaucratic strangulation.
Regardless of CBC, a reordering of our approach to child welfare is called for, such that communities and their members are responsible for serving those in need, including foster children and their families, while the government is responsible for basic protection.
Community-level work is messy. It requires diligent collaboration that fights for community authority and challenges existing top-down power structures. It requires us to set aside (or, at least, confront) preconceived ideas that divide us. Historically-rigid government structures must provide flexibility and reallocate funding in ways that may provoke their survival instinct.
At this intersection of collaboration, communication, and flexibility, children are well cared for, in such a way that everyone is involved but no one can take credit.
This sort of community collaboration is on display in Midland where Buckner Midland and High Sky Children’s Ranch are providing beds to prevent children from sleeping in offices. They join the local non-profit Fostering Restoration Ministries that has been providing an apartment, supplies, and enrichment for children without placement for over two years. Surrounding the work of these organizations is a team of volunteers, supporters, and cheerleaders that represent the broader Permian Basin community.