By Jill Ament & Shelly Brisbin at the Texas Standard, Dec. 18, 2020
In 2015, a federal judge declared the Texas foster care system “broken” and unconstitutional. She ordered the state to take a series of actions to fix it. The effort to implement those changes, and negotiations over how to do it, have continued since the original order.
New reporting from The Dallas Morning News suggests the crisis that led to foster children sleeping in state offices because there was no other place for them to go – a crisis of capacity – continues, and has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bob Garrett, who has covered the story from the start for The Dallas Morning News, told Texas Standard that in November, 126 children spent two or more consecutive nights in an office, or with Child Protective Services staff in a temporary location.
Garrett says part of the problem is the difficulty of finding enough foster care providers who are willing to accept the rates paid by Texas.
“We’ve had, in the last 20 years, some providers just shift to the federal government to do their unaccompanied minors because that pays better than Texas state-paid foster children,” Garrett said.
In the past 12 months, 10 providers, accounting for more than 500 beds, have left the state system. Garrett says some of those providers “weren’t very good,” and the state has focused on improving quality by cracking down on them. But they end up just leaving the system.
Recruiting individual foster parents has been difficult, both before and during the pandemic, Garrett says. The children who have ended up sleeping in state offices are often older, and some have severe behavioral or mental health issues.
“They’re not the cuddly, cute little ones that people want to adopt,” he said.
Garrett says the state agencies responsible for administering foster care programs have not yet sought additional funds to fulfill their mission.