Resource support

Panel: Foster Families in Texas Need More Mental Health Resources and Family Supports

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Texas foster children need more mental health supports and foster care options, according to panel of experts assembled to address crisis in the care system state child protection.

Three national experts began evaluating the system late last year to come up with solutions to the problem of hundreds of children sleeping in state office buildings, hotels and other unauthorized placements.

They filed their report on Monday, which notes that “children deserve to be safe mentally, emotionally and physically and cared for by their families and in environments that allow them to heal, thrive and thrive in. standardized and unrestricted environments “. He goes on to say that foster children should only be placed in large groups or collective care facilities in rare cases, and that the state needs to strengthen services and supports for entire families. Experts also stressed that they are not suggesting any further development or use of assembly facilities in the state.

In November 2021, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) reported that 236 children had spent at least one day without a placement. By the end of the month, 16% of these children had been without a placement for 36 days or more.

Thirty-three percent of children classified “without placement” in November need specialized care; 34% need intensive care. Twenty-two percent of them were released from mental hospitals without any plans for their next placement.

According to the report, people often attribute the increase in the number of children without placements to the lack of providers willing to serve children with such high needs. Parents who waive their rights due to their inability to access mental health services for their children were also highlighted as a root cause, with the pandemic, insufficient provider rates, lack of coordination between agencies and a stricter regulation of existing providers.

However, the report pointed out that “the main failure is the lack of a fully developed health care system, including home and community resources, targeted and resourced treatment, and appropriate placement services. adapted to the needs of children ”.

He went on to say, “When asked, the young people are very clear that they don’t want to go back to a group home and want to be placed with a family.

Host family care

Scott Lundy, president and CEO of Arrow Child and Family Ministries, said he’s always believed foster care helps children thrive, but knows that not all foster families are equipped to care for a child with severe trauma or mental health problems.

In addition to traditional foster care and adoption services, Arrow is working to expand its Treatment Foster Care (TFC) program, where families receive special training in trauma-informed care. . They also pair each family with a behavioral health specialist and a licensed clinician as a social worker – often with a lower caseload to allow them to pay more attention to the needs of each child.

“I can’t even explain how much I believe in this model and how much I think this is the answer,” he said.

The expert panel reviewing the Texas system agreed, suggesting that the state form a plan to expand these types of TFC programs over the next 60 days.

With around 50 families currently participating in this program, Lundy said he has seen success. He said their children placed in the TFC saw a 70% chance of “decreasing” the level of care they needed; he compared that to 30% for many residential treatment facilities.

Caregivers

The panel also criticized the state for not prioritizing foster care, where children are placed with other parents or extended family members to live. The report calls them “the backbone of child protection systems”.

In fact, experts noted that the Texas legislature had allocated millions of dollars for foster care providers and capacity building, but said none of those funds had been made available to caregivers. family.

“Despite the goal of supporting kinship care, family caregivers in Texas (and many other states) are treated very differently from traditional foster parents, receiving less compensation and attention from managers. of cases, having fewer rights, receiving less consideration by the courts, and being offered fewer services. In Texas, kinship service providers are paid $ 11.55 per day, compared with daily rates for foster parents ranging from $ 47.37 at the moderate level to $ 92.43 at the intense level, ” the report reads.

The report encourages the DFPS to:

  • Evaluate its current practice and policy on kinship care
  • Adopt a relative investing strategy first and put in place practices to support it
  • Request funds to increase the rates for family care to match the rates for unrelated foster families
  • Appropriate funding for a caregiver support pool from American Rescue Plan Act funds
  • Expanding Mental Health Services or Caring Families