Texas has options for improving its foster care system — and Texas must

Imagine you don’t have a place to call home.

Your belongings are what fit in your small bag. You are separated from your brother, your sister, your dog or cat, and you know every day could move you to a new place with conditions you can’t predict — or worse, there’s no place for you to go.

This is life for many vulnerable children in our Texas foster care system.

Increasing media scrutiny, a federal court case and general public dismay have combined to finally make foster care a top issue for our elected officials and their appointees.

After years of false starts, management turnover, and chronic under-funding, the question upon Texas now is not whether, but how to reform foster care.

Fortunately, we have options.

The fundamental problem of the current system is that it is state-administered, out of Austin. Texas is too big and too diverse for this to best serve kids.

Strategies to recruit new foster homes, develop needed services and engage schools, courts and advocates are different in each community, and our solutions must reflect that.

One option is expanding Foster Care Redesign, now operating in seven Texas counties.

It’s a community-based model aimed at uniquely serving geographic regions rather than the entire state, and it is already making improvements to chronic problems.

Florida transitioned from a state-driven system to a community-based model with vastly improved outcomes. The number of children in foster care decreased 48 percent, the number of children in group homes decreased 54 percent and the number of children aging out of foster care decreased by 66 percent 10 years after implementation.

Texas can fix its foster care system.

Our system must be organized differently to better connect with people in every community who can help these children.

The private sector stands ready to build partnerships to support community-based foster care, but this important work must ultimately remain the responsibility of the state of Texas.

Philanthropists and churches can help, but their resources simply cannot provide for all the reforms needed.

Faster investigations cost money. High-quality home visiting services to prevent child abuse cost money.

Recruiting and training more foster families costs money. Trauma-informed care and clinical best practices that heal children cost money.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other state leaders are inspiring the faith community to provide homes for children.

As partners with the faith community in support of foster care, our community foundations and nonprofit organizations understand the private sector’s role.

For decades, philanthropists across Texas have supported children in foster care.

In turn, the state must recognize its role in the provision of foster care and the limits of its partners in the private sector.

Foster care reform is coming in 2017.

Communities across Texas must prepare themselves for their crucial role in a newly focused and locally controlled foster care system.

Foundations, churches and nonprofits all stand ready to partner with the state to protect our most vulnerable children.

Ralph D. Heath, retired executive vice president of Lockheed Martin, is a board member of the North Texas Community Foundation. C.W. “Dub” Stocker III is the founder of Lonestar Resources Inc. and board chairman of ACH Child and Family Services in Fort Worth.

This article was originally printed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in November 2016.


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