March 2 was a big day for Texas. It marked, of course, the 184th anniversary of our independence. But it also began an important transition for some of the most vulnerable Texans — children in foster care.
Since 2017, the state has been working to make its foster care system more responsive to the needs of children by expanding opportunities for local private and nonprofit charities to care for and manage the cases of children who enter state care. Texas Independence Day brought a dramatic step toward the transition to a new localized model of care in seven North Texas counties.
Our Community Our Kids, a nonprofit organization based in Tarrant County, took over primary responsibility for providing foster care case management, kinship and family reunification services for children and families in Tarrant, Palo Pinto, Parker, Johnson, Hood, Somervell, and Erath counties. These services, which are the most critical to ensuring that children grow up in a safe, loving home, were previously managed out of Austin by the Department of Family and Protective Services.
For years, the centrally-run foster care system was in a state of emergency marked by increasing numbers of children entering care each year and being subjected to conditions that, in many instances, were more harmful than the ones from which they were removed. Things had gotten so bad that in 2015, a federal judge ruled that the protective services department systematically violated the constitutional rights of the children it is tasked with protecting.
In response, Gov. Greg Abbott made foster care reform an emergency priority for the 2017 legislative session, and the Legislature got to work designing an entirely new model that would be more responsive to the needs of children. The new model, known as Community-Based Care, increased the role of local communities and nonprofit organizations in caring for children.
It began a staged rollout later that year. To date, four regions of the state are operating under the new model, and preliminary results indicate that it is doing exactly what it was designed to do: revolutionize the Texas foster care system and make it better for kids.
In the first stage of rollout, local lead agencies are solely responsible for building foster care capacity by engaging the community and recruiting new foster families. Our Community Our Kids was the first local organization to take on this responsibility, and it increased the number of active foster family homes in its region by 36 percent overall, with increases as high as 300 percent in some rural counties.
It also significantly increased the number of children placed in family environments rather than institutional settings. More than 80 percent of children placed under the group’s supervision are in a foster family home.
With the transition to the next phase of implementation, Our Community Our Kids now has the opportunity to build on this success and ensure that more children realize their basic human right to a family through either reunification with a stronger, healthier family or adoption.
Today, nearly 50,000 children live in the Texas foster care system. About 3,000 children, or 6 percent, are being served by Community-Based Care. In a statement coinciding with the announcement that Our Community Our Kids officially entered the next stage of implementation, Abbott declared his commitment to seeing Community-Based Care implemented in every corner of the state.
While there’s still a long way to go, the move to case management is a monumental step toward making the Texas foster care system right for kids.