The state’s child welfare agency is launching a new program aimed at improving the outcomes of children in foster care in Texas. The project, called Foster Care Redesign, has been in the works for years.
Last month, Child Protective Services launched the program in 60 counties in North and West Texas.
The program tries to keep kids close to their communities and reduce the number of times they move between foster homes.
Under the current foster care system, children who enter the system are supposed to be placed in a home that meets their needs. But since the state contracts with so many different private foster organizations, there’s no guarantee kids be placed anywhere near their home neighborhood.
“We may have children entering foster care in Far West Texas, but their service needs will only be met in Houston. So they’d have to go to Houston for foster care," said David Whiteside with the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees the state's foster care program.
He says the Foster Care Redesign program would change that.
“With the redesign system we want to bring services to the community where they need them.”
Under the new program, DFPS will contract with only one private company that’s in charge of finding children a foster home, depending on the DFPS region.
“Now we can put our efforts on a single contractor and establish a robust monitoring system to track how they oversee their own network of providers," Whiteside said.
The contracts will be performance based, so it’s dependent on positive outcomes for kids.
The state will also work with biological families to create a safe environment for kids at home. It’ll also continue to represent the children in court. But some worry having the state work with families and private companies place the kids in homes will create a disconnect.
“If the biological family or parents aren’t doing what they need to do, even if child is ready to move on go home that can’t happen until a judge makes a decision about whether a child can go home or not," said Irene Clements, president of the Texas Foster Family Association.
She hopes biological parents and foster parents will be able to work together directly, when possible, to get children back home.
Ashley Harris with Texans Care for Children also has concerns. She worries there’s not enough data available that shows whether or not using a single contractor actually reduces the time kids spend in foster care.
“That’s yet to be determined. As it specifically relates to Foster Care Redesign, we just don’t have enough information yet to see if that’s really improving outcomes for kids," Harris said.
But Whiteside – with CPS – says foster care systems in other states use one private contractor successfully. He says the goal is to slowly implement the strategy statewide.