A recent article published by the Austin American-Statesman reported that 678 foster children did not have a home for two or more nights in 2019, leaving children to sleep in state offices or hotels. This number reflects a 49% increase since 2018, and can be attributed to the state’s struggle to recruit foster families, along with the number of high-needs children and limited placement options for teenagers.
But this need not be the reality for Texas foster youth for much longer, as Community Based Care (CBC) is tackling these issues head-on. Regions in Texas that have moved toward a community-driven system are not only seeing significant increases in the number of foster homes, but significant improvements in outcomes for the children in their care.
Community Based Care is the localization of the Texas Foster Care system. Under CBC, Texas is divided into 17 regions, each overseen by a local, Single Source Continuum Contractor (SSCC) responsible for the placement and case management for foster children in their region. While the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) continues to oversee the investigative process, transferring placement and case-management responsibilities to local providers allows communities to be more responsive in meeting the unique needs of children in the foster care system, while encouraging innovative collaboration.
Currently, three regions have begun implementing CBC, all producing promising results such as increased placement stability and keeping more sibling groups together. Region 3B, encompassing the area around Forth Worth, has been operating the longest and has produced more meaningful longitudinal data showing promise for the future of the Texas foster care system.
Since 2017, Region 3B, run by Our Community Our Kids (OCOK), has been able to address local problems and, in some measures, outperform state-run foster care.
Similar to other parts of Texas, foster home capacity in Region 3B prior to OCOK taking the reins had been historically low, as DFPS struggled to recruit foster families in the largely rural region. Since OCOK began operating, however, it has been able to engage its community more effectively, and within the first two years increase regional capacity by 36%, with some counties increasing their placement capacity by up to 300%.
The region’s impressive foster care recruitment has also extended to high-needs youth. Before CBC, the state-run system struggled to find placement options for high-needs children leading to unsafe or long-distance placements. OCOK has increased the number of placements in therapeutic and high-need foster family homes by 3.6% since 2017. Now, 80% of all care days are experienced within a foster family, rather than an institutional placement.
In cases in which a family is unable to take a child, other options such as residential treatment centers are utilized to provide an immediate placement for youth. However, prior to OCOK taking over, the state had no residential treatment center with capacity for teenagers in Region 3B—meaning that a large portion of those children ended up sleeping in offices. Now, there are 44 residential treatment beds reserved specifically for teenagers.
This increase in foster family homes not only decreased the need for children to be temporarily placed in unsafe settings, but also lowered the average number of placement setting moves for children, increased the number of children being placed within 50 miles of their home communities, and increased the number of sibling groups placed together.
While three regions have begun implementation, there are still 14 to go. It is clear that CBC is improving outcomes for children and addressing complex problems faced by the state-run system. The model is built for natural competition, accountability, and innovative problem-solving, contractually ensuring high performance.
Measurable improvements have been made in areas the legacy system was failing children, providing evidence that community-based services are the future of foster care in Texas.