A New Texas Law Will Create a More Private Foster Care System

Senate Bill 11 moves the system away from state management, toward a community-based care model.

By Becky FogelSeptember 6, 2017 3:53 pm, ,

Texas Standard spoke with Kaysie Taccetta of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services about the new “community-based model” for foster care in the state. One service provider in north Texas is already working within the model. The Standard paid the group a visit. Listen to that part of the story below.

On September 1, hundreds of new laws took effect in Texas. A number of those were aimed at improving the state’s child welfare system. Failure to do so was not an option.

In December of 2015, after a wave of reports about Texas kids dying from neglect and abuse while in foster care, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack found the state’s foster care system was unconstitutional, and deemed it “broken.”

Fast forward to May of 2017 when Gov. Greg Abbott signed a number of bills to overhaul that system.

“I think the judge should be pleased that Texas did our constitutional and legal duty on our own to implement landmark legislation that will completely transform the system in ways that make it better and the case should be dismissed,” Abbott said.

Spoiler alert: the case hasn’t yet been dismissed. But one of the major changes to the foster care system that lawmakers approved during this year’s legislative session was already in the works before Texas was sued in 2011.

It was originally called Foster Care Redesign – and now that Senate Bill 11 has taken effect, it establishes a model that increasingly privatizes the foster care system. The program will begin rolling out across the state soon. But the term model is a bit misleading, since the redesign is not a one -size fits all program.

Kaysie Taccetta is director of conservatorship services with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. She has been working on foster care redesign, now called the community-based model, for the state.

Taccetta says the goal of the new model is to bring resources closer to the communities they serve.

“[We are ] moving from a statewide foster care model to one that is community-based, that can take advantages of the strengths of each particular community in Texas, since it’s so big, build off of those strengths and have a real, targeted local approach to providing foster care and services,” Taccetta says.

Taccetta says the community focus extends to where foster children are placed within the state.

“One of the things that our commissioner at the time was really looking to affect was the fact that we have so many children that are placed in other parts of the state than where they are removed from,” she says.

Not all foster placements are created equal, Taccetta says.

“It’s not necessarily about having, just, open beds or open homes.  It’s having the right type of services that support those homes, too,” she says. “We were looking for a model that would support making sure communities had the right services in place, so that when children are removed from their homes, we can keep them in the same school, keep them placed with their siblings, with their friends, and all their positive support systems while we work with their families to try to reunify them.”

Community-focused programs, and the opportunity to privatize services are also intended to improve the distribution of foster care providers around the state. Providers include child-placement agencies, residential treatment centers that serve special needs children and facilities that function like emergency shelters

“We would let these large, statewide procurements and open enrollment processes, but there wasn’t a set, designated geographic area,” she says. “So we ended up having places in the state where there are pockets of providers, and then in other parts of the state we don’t have as many foster care providers.”

Community-based contractors that manage a range of services are seen as a way to reduce the complexity and bureaucracy of the existing state system.

“I think it takes the state out of having to manage…over 300 contracts, which is what we’re doing now, and allows us to focus in on contracting with what we’re calling ‘single source continuum contractors,’” Taccetta says. “That contractor’s responsible for developing the foster care system and the foster care network of services that best meets the needs of children from their area.”

Taccetta says the cost of moving to the community-based model should be measured in terms of opportunities to add new services, and the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of providers’ programs.

“There are some things that we are purchasing in foster care redesign or community-based care that we hadn’t purchased before,” she says. “The legislature was really good to us in providing resources, but then another major change with community-based care is we moved to performance-based contracting. We outline the outcomes that we expect for children and families served by this contractor within the community, so we’re holding them accountable for reaching those outcomes.”

The state is currently divided into 11 foster care service regions. With redesign, that number would grow to 17, if the redesign model were to be deployed statewide.

Community-based care in practice

The foster care model envisioned by Senate Bill 11 is already in use by one community provider. In fact, ACH Child and Family Services in north Texas has been at it for three years. The model is popular with some longtime foster parents, too.

Steve Clinkscales was a little reluctant to become a foster parent when his wife DeEdra first brought up the idea. But lots of prayers, nearly 11 years and about 70 foster kids later, the couple have become outspoken advocates for taking care of the state’s most vulnerable children. They even traveled to Austin earlier this year to talk with state lawmakers face-to-face.

“And they got to hear our stories and you could definitely see the compassion that they had…and Governor Abbott hit a homerun,” Steve Clinkscales says.

The Clinkscales live in Cleburne, 30 miles south of Fort Worth. Steve says, before the community-based care model was put in place, they used to get kids from all over the state. These days, the kids they foster hail from seven nearby counties like Tarrant, Palo Pinto and Parker. In fact, some of the kids are from so close by that when it came to one mother who had her kids removed by Child Protective Services, “I bumped into her at the grocery store with the two little girls that we had,” he says.

And since CPS reunited the girls with their mom, DeEdra says now that mom is a dear friend.

“When I struggle with am I doing the right thing by taking care of someone else’s kids, she’s always there to give me that pat on the back and say ya know, please continue to do this. I never worried one time when I was in your house once I met you and started talking to you,” DeEdra says.

This is what community-based-care is supposed to do – keep foster kids close to their home communities, so they can stay in their schools, still see their friends and even increase the likelihood that they’re reunited with their families when appropriate.

Wayne Carson thinks taking a more local approach to foster care makes sense. He’s the CEO of ACH Child and Family Services.

“Nobody cares more about the safety of our kids more than we do,” Carson says. “I know that our folks in Austin are very concerned about the safety of our kids and rightly so. But we’re the ones taking care of the kids and they’re the ones who feel responsible to them.”

Carson’s organization has been pioneering the community-based-care model in Texas since 2014. That’s when the state turned over management of foster care in a seven-county region around Fort Worth to ACH. It’s known as Region 3b.

It was ACH’s job as the lead agency (officially called a Single Source Continuum Contractor) to get more than 40 organizations that serve foster kids and families in those counties to work together as one network. That program is known as Our Community Our Kids.

Since ACH began managing foster care in Region 3b, they’ve increased the number of foster families in their area by 20 percent. Carson says that because this model is tailor-made to the community’s needs, it’s easier to respond to crises faster than a solely state-run system could, especially in a place like Texas, where one size doesn’t fit all.

“The solution to these problems is going to look very different in El Paso than it looks in Fort Worth, or it’s going to look very different in Tyler than it does in San Antonio,” Carson says. That’s the beauty of the model is that with good leadership communities can identify, ya know what resources do we already have in place that we can use and what additional resources need to be built.”

That’s why lawmakers voted to move Texas’ foster care system in this direction. But people like State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) worry it might be hard to replicate ACH’s success. Wu also got his own comprehensive CPS reform bill through the 85th Texas Legislature.

“If there is some way we could clone desire and clone this love of doing public service, we would be doing great,” Wu says.

Carson thinks the state has crafted a great, performance-based contract that allows lead agencies like his to innovate while still meeting state standards. But ACH did a few things that went above and beyond what the state required.

“In doing our due diligence for this project, we did go to other states to see how other states are doing this because the idea for this model is not new,” Carson says.

With this extra effort in mind, Wu, who voted in favor of expanding community-based foster care, expects two types of groups to apply to provide services. Counties are one.

“And the second one is organizations who are willing to take a hit,” Wu says.

Over the last three years, the non-profit ACH actually lost money. Carson says they spent $6 million building up services in the region they managed.

Considering this extra investment, does the state really need to privatize the foster care system to get better results, or did it just get bad results because it was underfunded for decades?

“I think more resources certainly would have helped,” Carson says. “I’m not convinced some of the things we’ve done were even possible to do in a statewide model.”

ACH’s three-year contract with the state ended on August 31 and they are renewing it. Carson emphasizes that ACH is committed to seeing this model succeed in Texas. And so is the state, itself. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services already announced that it will be setting up the community-based care model in a series of West Texas counties next.

Becky Fogel

ACH Child and Family Services in Fort Worth.

ACH Child and Family Services, Fort Worth

Photo by Becky Fogel