Texas’ Child Welfare Reform: Two No-Brainers

The court-initiated overhaul of child welfare in Texas is underway; we will likely see a plan mapped out by the special masters in the case by early summer.

Of specific concern is the system’s handling of the Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) program of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). PMC  includes youth for whom permanence – reunification with family or adoption being the main avenues – is not achieved within a year of their removal.

When nonprofit litigation firm Children’s Rights brought the lawsuit in 2011, there were about 12,000 children in PMC. About 6,400 of the PMC children had been in the system for three years or more; 500 had been in PMC for more than 10 years; and more than 1,300 aged out of PMC in 2008. More than a third of PMC children had experienced at least five foster care placements.

Youth Services Insider (YSI) looks forward to seeing that plan, which will chart a different course for tens of thousands of children in the state. One of the special masters, Covenant House President Kevin Ryan, is among the most respected national minds in child welfare.

Here are two ideas that make a lot of sense to YSI as this comes together:

Implement the San Antonio Model

The state is about to get an overhaul, but Bexar County (hub: San Antonio) started its own redesign in 2014 after it became the state leader in two dubious categories: number of removals and rate of re-victimization for youth who had been reunified.

The county has created staff positions that bring child protective services closer to the court case management process, and it has redrawn its contracts with area providers to improve coordination.

The result, thus far, is a 30 percent decrease in the county’s rate of removal. You can click here to read a much more robust description of San Antonio’s work, written by District Court Judge Peter Sakai.

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids

The signature program of the Columbus, Ohio-based Dave Thomas Foundation on Adoption (DTFA) helps pay for and train adoption specialists to focus on permanency for youth that are statistically difficult to place into adoptions. This never gets easier to write: that includes any foster youth above the age of nine.

In 2011, Child Trends published an impact study on the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, a huge undertaking that assessed the outcomes of all WWK sites and also used a smaller sample in a randomized control group study.

The study found that WWK-supported recruiters worked with 9,680 children, and that work has led to 3,708 adoptions. That level of impact has placed DTFA in line for a massive expansion investment by the newly-formed Blue Meridian Partners, a capital aggregation project led by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

DTFA could soon receive a $200 million injection to expand Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, and Texas should definitely avail itself of that process. At the moment, there are only seven WWK-supported specialist slots in the state: two in Austin, three in McAllen and two in Houston. And the two in Houston are currently not filled.

The San Antonio Plan and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids attack the same challenge from both ends. The clearest path to limiting the number of kids languishing in foster care is not having them come into foster care in the first place. So to the extent that can be achieved with better case planning on the front end, the state has a home grown template to consider.

Once a kid is already in the languishing category, WWK has established through its evaluation that the extra attention of a dedicated specialist can make a difference there.

The state has challenged the appointment of special masters, so jury’s out on whether the process moves forward as planned by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1205 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.