The Texas Foster Care Capacity Crisis and Its Solution

This is part one of a two-part series about the ongoing capacity crisis in Texas foster care. Today’s post will discuss the problem and its causes.

The Texas foster care system is experiencing the worst capacity crisis in memory. Systemically, this means too few beds in both foster homes and residential facilities for children and youth who have been separated from their families. However, this technical language obscures the human toll of the current crisis.

To children and youth in the Texas foster care system, a capacity crisis means sleeping in offices and hotels awaiting placement, staying in shelters and residential facilities rather than with families, and ultimately finding a place to stay hundreds of miles from home, maybe even out of state.

Children Without Placement

In April 2021, 282 foster children spent at least 2 consecutive nights in temporary, unlicensed locations because no foster care provider had an open bed. These locations include state agency offices, hotels, and church buildings. Many of the children and youth sleeping in unlicensed locations are teens who need a home.

282 Texas foster children were without placement in April 2021

Causes of Current Crisis

The Texas foster care system has lost almost 1000 beds in the last year. The total number of foster children needing a place to stay has not decreased over that time. This means the placement resources are decreasing while the need is not.

Children without placement often sleep in state agency offices

This decrease resulted from a perfect storm of factors.

First, the COVID-19 pandemic required social distancing and other mitigation factors that decreased the number of children and youth who could be safely housed in congregate care (that is, shelters and residential facilities). At the same time, providers struggled to license new foster homes due to the lock-down and many existing foster homes exited the system to focus on children already in their homes.

Second, the ongoing federal lawsuit against the Texas child protection system resulted in increased oversight and monitoring that increased the costs and administrative burden for providers serving Texas foster children. The “heightened monitoring” by the federal court means more paperwork, staff time, and site visits that take resources away from serving foster children without additional reimbursement.

Third, the expanded unemployment compensation benefits and decreased requirements to obtain benefits made it more difficult for foster care providers to hire and keep staff. State policy requires certain caregiver-child ratios. Without adequate staff, providers are unable to accept children for placement even if they have open beds. The American Rescue Plan Act incentivized potential staff to stay home because they could make more in unemployment compensation than providers could afford to pay.

Finally, the unaccompanied migrant child crisis has created a parallel federal system that competes for beds that have historically been used for Texas foster children. The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) currently houses over 7000 unaccompanied migrant children in state-licensed facilities. 4300 of these children are being held in licensed facilities throughout Texas. ORR pays more and requires less of providers of refugee services than the Texas foster care system.

In our next post, we will discuss the solution to the current crisis and ways to head off future problems like this.

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