The last defense for the most vulnerable kids in Texas is failing them. A recent shakeup at Child Protective Services included Gov. Greg Abbott promising reform, and a new CPS director – a former head of the Texas Rangers – promising to replace half the regional directors of CPS statewide. Lawmakers also promise to make real reform a top priority.
Now, Mike Ward with the Houston Chronicle is reporting that the state has sent 37 foster care kids to a former juvenile detention center, in what Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) has described as a warehousing of troubled youth in the state’s care.
Ward says these 37 kids are mostly from the Fort Worth area and the surrounding counties and are classified as high-needs and have multiple behavioral and emotional issues.
“They need multiple different levels of treatment,” Ward says. “They tend to be runaways. They’ve been in and out of psych hospitals. They’ve been in other numerous placements. So there needs to be some secure, safe place for them and the state at this point believes that this is the best place for them. But [there are] a lot of people who are disagreeing with that.”
But as noted earlier, this facility isn’t a treatment center. It was Crockett State School, a detention center that closed in 2011.
“This new use is being hailed by the local officials as a win-win,” Ward says. “But [there are] a lot of questions about whether, by applying paint and making some remodeling changes, you can change the nature and the appearance and the environment at a former detention center to be able to successfully hold and treat foster care children.”
Ward spoke to Whitmire – who was instrumental in closing the Crockett State School:
“This is warehousing of troubled youth, pure and simple, and that’s not a solution,” Whitmire said. “It’s just creating a new problem. When they turn 18 and get out, they stand a high likelihood of becoming homeless or getting into more trouble and ending up in an adult prison.”
CPS is trying to move toward keeping more kids in their local communities, close to the home from which they were removed for neglect and abuse. The revamped facility is in a rural area, and CPS is sending foster kids far from their home communities. Current negotiations call for kids from east Texas getting accepted into this facility, according to Chris Brown who runs Serenity Place, the name for the new center.
But Ward says there are several dynamics at play here.
“One is the state is critically short of beds to hold foster care children and this has been a crisis that has been going on for some time,” Ward says. “The state is looking for, on any given day, just any bed to hold these foster care children who have committed no crime, except for the fact that their parents can’t or won’t take care of them.”
But CPS says that they are sure Serenity Place is an appropriate facility.
“I don’t get the sense that CPS would like to make this any kind of pattern,” Ward says. “They’re assured that the program that is in there at this moment is functional.”
Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.