The week, we begin a series called Remaking Foster Care. Over the next few days, we’ll hear from people across North Texas — biological parents, foster parents and young adults who’ve “aged out” of the system. We’ll start at a one-of-a-kind clinic in Dallas for kids in foster care. This series originally appeared on KERA News.
Toys and crayons dot small tables at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. On a busy day, it can get a little loud in the clinic.
Dr. Anu Partap runs this facility, and she’s an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Her big brown eyes, and dimples make it easy for children to pay attention. In the last five years, she’s treated thousands of victims of abuse and neglect.
“There’s something worse than death, and that’s not living your full potential,” Partap says. She’ll never forget one Friday afternoon, when a young boy visited with his sister.
“You have to picture this 7-year-old, he was so sweet with his younger sister,” she says. “When I was trying to take her shoes off, he took off her sandals for her. He buckled them back on. She couldn’t speak, she was covered in scars. She was really hungry. And his number one concern was her.”
The 5-year-old girl was visibly tired, and shaking. She walked like a little old lady because of physical abuse, apparently at the hands of her mother. The boy was also covered in scars, and hungry. Dr. Partap says many children in foster care have experienced a degree of chaos comparable to surviving a tornado or a war.
“We have to see them as kids whose health has been harmed,” she says. “Their physical health, their emotional health, their developmental health, their educational health. And do everything else around that.”
A far-flung system
But the foster care system doesn’t work like that, yet. For years, foster care in Texas was based more on the structure of agencies and location of services. This left too many children being placed far from their families of origin. Siblings were separated. Some teens were moved 20, 30, 40 times.
“Every move is a loss,” says Madeline Reedy, assistant director of Dallas Transition Resource Action Center (TRAC). “Every move is significant. It is tragic for a young person to be removed from their biological home. And then to enter care, and then to be removed from your siblings. Or to be moved multiple times.”