Recently, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services released new internal guidelines that cut the caseloads of foster care workers who have been overwhelmed for years by an unmanageable number of clients. But the department has faced many challenges in recent years, beyond a struggling workforce.
A federal judge ruled the foster care system to be unconstitutionally dangerous for the children it’s supposed to serve. Also, staff turnover has been high. And perhaps the most troubling problem is kids sleeping in state offices because there aren’t enough of the right homes in which to place them.
That was supposed to change. But Julie Chang, an investigative reporter for the Austin American-Statesman reports that despite repeated efforts by lawmakers to fix Texas’ child welfare system, more kids are sleeping in state offices and temporary shelters than last year. Chang says almost 700 kids didn’t have a place to sleep for two nights or more during 2019.
“That’s a 49% increase from 2018,” Chang says.
She says most of the kids are teens, many of whom have behavioral and mental health issues related to trauma. They need special care, but the state doesn’t have enough places to put them where they can get the care they need. Added to that is an outdated tracking system for available beds.
“There were beds in previous years that were not used. They just didn’t know that they were available, according to a state report,” Chang says.
But Chang says the state is working to update that system.
As for kids sleeping in offices, she says the state is experimenting with new strategies to prevent that in the future. One way is through so-called community-based foster care.
“Where they have local nonprofits and local governmental agencies administer foster care services so that these local entities have a better idea of what the needs are locally,” Chang says.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that a total of almost 700 kids in state foster care services didn’t have a place to sleep for two nights or more during 2019; not 700 kids per month in 2019.
Written by Caroline Covington.