Has a Community-Based Approach Improved Child Placements Within the Texas Foster Care System?

Source: Getty Images

During 2007 the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 758 which dramatically reformed the foster care system in Texas by focusing on “enhancing partnerships, increasing foster care capacity, and improving the quality of services offered to children and youth in the foster care system” (Foster Care, 2015). The method with which this system underwent implementation in 2014 was through Single Source Continuum Contactors, which are private local organizations tasked with the responsibility of creating and transitioning foster care services in their respective geographical areas (Foster Care, 2015). This redesign is part of a larger national foster care trend towards placing children within their existing community and including the community in providing services. This article and the partnering research seek to answer: has a community-based approach to foster care been successful within the state of Texas?

Contextually, this concept of community-based foster care is not at all new. In fact, The Anne E Casey Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at providing funding and research to help at risk children, explains that keeping children within their own communities and relying on the community for services and support have been part of good child welfare practice for decades. From service delivery models to the Family Preservation Movement, advocates and academics alike have emphasized the importance of the community to a child’s life and the system serving that child. The government’s Child Welfare department agrees with the necessity of community inclusion, outlining how keeping children within their local communities allows the child to retain critical bonds with family, friends, and school personnel. This helps reduce the trauma that often occurs when children are placed in the foster care system, something that was difficult to solve for in the previous foster care structure (National Technical Assistance, 2009). However, there are some acknowledged challenges in a community-based model. The biggest hurdle that states must overcome in this foster care system is educating current staff and future staff on the new set of rules and expectations within this system. Fortunately, seven other states have transitioned to an extent to community-based methods so Texas policy makers have looked extensively at their struggles, leading the legislature to choose a slow and phased out implementation to occur over about two decades. With this slow implementation, the state hopes to have adequate time and attention to face individual challenges in adopting the system as they arise (Foster Care, 2015).

The three graphs below represent a compilation of data published in the Rider 25 report appendices by the state on the statistical impact of the Foster Care Redesign model from 2015- 2017. In publishing this preliminary data on foster care redesign placements, the state warned that observers of the data must take into account the impact of initial adjustment, predominantly in the 2015 data. Furthermore, the state was unable to compile data for 2017 on placement within 50 miles so only 2015 and 2016 are included.

The three included graphics show the trends of sibling joint placement, placement within 50 miles, and children with 2 or less placements. These three factors were chosen based on a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics ,which found that behavioral well-being of children in foster care is significantly impacted by these factors because they create a stable and familiar environment. The ability to maintain siblings, placement stability and a familiar community environment ensures that these children experience the least amount of trauma possible during placement. Data for these three success indicators was compiled from the collective Texas foster care system, statewide non-redesign programs, Region 3B SSCC (the first region that implemented redesign), and the Region 3B areas not under the foster care redesign system.We see from looking at these comparisons that from 2015–2017, the SSCC model performed in line with the state and in some areas even exceeded the state’s performance. Specifically, the SSCC model outperformed all other collection areas by 10% in placement within 50 miles (Rider 25, 2017). Achievement of improved geographic placement was crucial to determining the success of Foster Care Redesign as it was expected to be the leading factor impacted by a transition to local community contractors for support.

Source: Texas DFPS Rider 25 Report Appendices

It is important to note that Texas has continued to expand their efforts to overhaul the previous Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) foster care system, transitioning from the above-described Foster Care Redesign (FCR)to a full Community Based Care (CBC) approach at the direction of Senate Bill 11 that passed by the Texas Legislature in 2017. The data collected and analyzed within this article is preliminary but suggests that the implementation of a community focused model was an improvement in the Texas Foster Care system and the continued transition to the CBC model was a smart decision by the Texas legislature.

Overall, implementation of Foster Care Redesign showed relatively consistent performance in this preliminary data collection through comparison to non-transitioned areas of the state. However, increased placement within 50 miles shows that a community-based approach improved child placements within the Texas foster care system. This success was also seen by state officials and is the reason that in 2017, the state expanded Redesign to a complete Community Based Care Model (Community Based, 2020). The future of Texas Foster Care is brighter now that local communities are able to play a vital role.

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