Texas’ Most Traumatized Foster Children are Stranded in Psychiatric Hospitals

Some kids are languishing in hospitals for as many as 700 days.

By Rhonda Fanning & Hady MawajdehApril 11, 2016 11:43 am

Turbulence continues for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services: Recently, a federal judge in Corpus Christi condemned the organization, calling it “broken.” Department commissioner John Specia, Jr. is leaving in May. And add to that an investigation showing that a shortage of space in foster care homes is leaving some children – some as young as two years old – stranded in state psychiatric facilities.

The Texas Tribune’s Terri Langford says there’s nowhere else to house these children.

“These are the most traumatized children in the foster care system,” she says. “They’re being held there longer because they are a harder child to place. You can’t just take a child in a psychiatric setting and move them to what we know as a typical foster parent setting. You need a more enhanced skill set for those foster care parents, or a foster care facility.”

Langford says it’s not currently known how many foster children are in psychiatric facilities. Family and Protective Services only track of the number of children admitted into the facilities, not differentiating between first-time and repeat admissions. There are roughly 4,000 admissions annually, and 17,151 children in the foster care system, so some children could be counted more than once.

“What we’re seeing though is the … total amount of days the children are staying past their Medicaid-covered initial treatment, which is something like eight to 10 days, is rising,” she says.

In 2009 kids were staying between eight and 13 days. Now those numbers have spiked to around 700 days for each child’s stay in a psychiatric hospital setting.

There’s also been reports that children are sleeping in DFPS offices because there’s nowhere else to house them. Langford says that’s something that started back in 2009, and hadn’t been seen again until now.

Another problem? High caseloads for caseworkers. The number of caseloads each caseworker has often exceeds recommended national numbers. Langford says caseworkers can burn out in a high-stress, low-paying job – and when those caseworkers leave the agency, their caseloads remain.

“We’re seeing the the same problems we’ve seen since the ’90s: high turnover among caseworkers, not enough foster care homes,” Langford says. “This has cycled and cycled and cycled for more than a decade, and the state’s going to have to come up with some better answers.”

Langford says although Gov. Greg Abbott claims child welfare is an important issue to his administration, there been little action by his office.

“This problem is not going away,” Langford says. “What we’ve seen from emails that we’ve pulled from the last year is that the governor’s staff and the governor has made this a priority interest of his. … His staff, I would say, is in close communication with DFPS on this issue. Whether that translates into greater action, we haven’t seen yet.”

Web post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.