The Texas child welfare system is one of the largest in the nation. Like PCHAS, it continues to grow and change as we learn more about how trauma impacts children and the best methods for helping kids heal.
Texas has been working to develop and implement Community-Based Care for more than a decade. PCHAS has been serving children in foster care in this environment and will continue to adapt and change as more regions roll out. On Sunday, July 16, 2023, the Waco Tribune-Herald published an article by Rachel Royster explaining Community-Based Care, and we’re excited to share it with you with permission.
Group seeks to fill McLennan County foster parent gap as state rolls out reforms
A coalition of foster care organizations in McLennan County is sounding the alarm about the need for more certified foster families as the state of Texas reforms the system for caring for neglected and abused children.
The changes will put regional organizations rather than the state in charge of foster care placement and case management, and requires children to remain close to their home communities. At the end of last September, McLennan County had 218 children in foster care, but only 28% were housed within the county.
Community leaders involved in the foster system transition say McLennan County has 87 families certified to care for foster children but needs 100 more.
The Waco-based Heart of Texas Families and Foster Care Coalition, formed in 2021, is recruiting organizations to provide more resources for Waco-area foster families. It is also calling on Wacoans to consider becoming foster parents.
Mandy Mathews, community relations director for Foster Village Waco, said when she talks to potential foster parents, their main concern is getting too attached to their placements, who may be returned to their birth families. As a foster parent herself, she said getting too attached makes for a perfect fit.
“If you’re afraid your heart is too big to step into a space like this, then you’re the perfect person to teach these children how to form healthy attachments, and what an important thing that is for them,” Mathews said. “Whether they stay with you or whether they don’t, being able to be a place and a person for whom a child can form an attachment carries with them through the rest of their lives. Having somebody who comes in and gives their whole heart even though it might break or hurt in the end is always just such a gift to that child, and that’s the goal of foster care.”
The shift to regional control of the foster care system will begin in 2026 for McLennan County and a large region of Central Texas.
Community-based care means to keep 100% of the kids in their community so their experience may be less traumatic. The legislation will hand off the state’s foster care responsibilities to regional contracted agencies working with state oversight. McLennan County’s region does not yet have a contracted agency.
The reason for change
The experience of being pulled away from parents is itself a hardship on children. Even if children are in a bad situation, they often do not understand that being removed is for their overall benefit, advocates say. To help keep as many constants as possible, community-based care makes an effort to keep children in the foster care system close to home, rather than across the state. This ensures family visits do not require hours of driving each week and that familiar faces for the child are never too far.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesperson Mark Wilson said community-based care sets out to solve the “one-size-fits-all approach” of the state-run foster care model with a more flexible community-driven system.
“We want to see the local autonomy flourish around family and child welfare,” Wilson said. “(Community-based care) grew from a collaboration between DFPS and private providers who were seeking to find innovative ways to serve children and families — one that focuses on the best interest of children and families.”
In 2017, Senate Bill 11 codified community-based care in the Texas Family Code. The bill directs DFPS to work in collaboration with nonprofit and local governmental entities which can provide child welfare services.
In McLennan County, nonprofits CK Family Services, Foster Village Waco and CASA of McLennan County are among many organizations in the coalition.
The coalition represents a network of resources for foster families and will continue in that role under the new system. According to Texas law, the services working with the state for community-based care must include direct case management to ensure child safety, permanency and well-being in accordance with state and federal child welfare goals.
“The intent of the legislation is not to change the work done by caseworkers, but to shift from a state-run child welfare system to a community-based system with more flexibility to develop services that reflect the local community and its needs,” Wilson said.
The transition to community-based care has been in motion for years.
Texas is broken up into 11 regions for the rollout of community-based care. Each region will be served by a “single source continuum contractor” selected by the state to coordinate a seamless system of services for children in foster care.
The basic steps for handling foster cases will remain in place under the new system. A foster child’s case starts with a state investigator looking into reports of neglect or abuse.
Children may be removed from the home during the investigation and placed in the care of friends or relatives. Families are provided services to help them offer a safe and stable environment so their children can return. If those efforts are unsuccessful, the legal system becomes involved and the children are placed with foster families.
The overarching goal of the system is to reunify the family once it is a safe place for the children. If that is not possible after 12 to 18 months, adoption becomes an option for the children.
Rolling out in waves
Community-based care is expanding across Texas in three stages:
Stage 1: A network of services is developed, and children are placed in foster homes by the regional contractor. Stage 1 aims to improve the overall well-being of foster care children by keeping them closer to home and connected with their communities and families. Stage 1 typically lasts 12 months.
Stage 2: The contractor provides case management, kinship and reunification services to increase the number of children with permanent homes. Stage 2 usually lasts 18 months.
Stage 3: The contractor handles all case management in the region with DFPS stepping into an oversight role.
Some regions have already undergone the first two phases, while others have not even begun plans.
Community-based care currently serves about half of Texas geographically and about a quarter of the children who are in state custody.
Region 7, which encompasses 30 counties including McLennan and Travis, is considered ready to move into Stage 1, with the transition beginning in the 2026-27 fiscal year. Stage 2 is expected to happen in the 2028-29 fiscal year.
By 2029, all of Texas will be served by community-based care. The planned timeline is contingent on funding and qualified applications for contractors.
To prepare for the regional rollout, the Heart of Texas Families and Foster Care Coalition is assessing needs in McLennan County, mainly the lack of resources for both birth families and foster families.
Courtney and Stacy Spink are sisters who have been fostering together for three years in their Waco home. They said the hardest part has been finding a therapist who has availability for their foster children.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children in the foster care system need to have a health screening visit within 72 hours of placement. Often, placements happen in the middle of the night with a few hours’ notice.
In general, finding a doctor can be a time-consuming process, a 2022 AMN Healthcare survey found. The firm reported that it takes Dallas residents an average of 13 days to be seen by a doctor by appointment and on average, only 55% of those doctor’s offices accept Medicaid, a medical benefit foster children depend on. The survey found that in Houston, residents have to wait an average of 23 days and 69% of doctor’s offices accept Medicaid.
Following the initial screening, foster children have to be seen again for a comprehensive health assessment within 30 days of the placement and a followup within three months of the placement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also states that within 30 days of placement, foster children should undergo a mental health evaluation, as well as a developmental health evaluation for kids younger than 6, an educational evaluation for those older than 5, and a dental evaluation.
Courtney Spink said she and her sister had to wait five months to get one of their placements into a counselor’s office and have even had to travel to different towns to have their placements seen in a timely manner.
Cristian Garcia, Chief Development Officer of St. Francis Ministries, the contractor for Region 1, said he saw similar challenges when his region transitioned to community-based care. Region 1 comprises the Texas Panhandle, which includes Amarillo and Lubbock.
Garcia said the transition was made easier when the community began to rally together to take ownership.
“I think what community-based care does is it allows for communities to own what’s truthfully theirs, and that’s their kids and families and the well-being of their community,” Garcia said.
“The difference here to me is having the ability to do that with a provider who’s willing to seek feedback and support the community to say, ‘All right, you have a seat at the table. Let’s get this thing going.’ And that is always what drives positive outcomes for kids and families.”
As community-based care begins to roll out in McLennan County, kids in foster care who have already been placed outside the county will not be disrupted in those placements. Rather, as more children are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect, they will be placed within their community.
Local foster care advocates say the shortage of foster families in McLennan County has been an issue for years.
Officials with CK Family Services said the greatest need is for families willing to foster sibling groups, children ages 9 and older, and youth with behavioral needs. There is also a distinct need for families where one or both parents have specialized medical training.
Stacy Spink said she and her sister dreamed of creating a foster family together for years before they even started the paperwork.
One Sunday, they attended church as usual and the sermon that day gave them the final push they needed. Their pastor made a point to tell the congregation they could wipe away the need for foster homes in Waco if each family chose to use their spare bedroom to house a foster child.
Even with the daily challenges of foster care, the sisters said they know this is their calling.
“I think the most beautiful piece is just when they leave recognizing the growth that they’ve made from when they came into the home to when they leave the home,” Courtney Spink said. “Just like the skills and character and joy that they leave with that they, in our case, have never come with. And then there’s also lots of little pockets of joy in giving them life experiences that they never got like going to the beach or Hawaiian Falls or the movies.”
PCHAS has been proud to partner with the Heart of Texas Families and Foster Care Coalition from the very beginning. Our team at The Foster Care Village in Itasca, Texas works serves children and families in and around the Waco area from The Village, and through Foster Care & Adoption services in the community.
If you live in or near Waco, Hillsboro, Itasca, Cleburne or Burleson and want to know more about foster care and/or adoption, we want to get to know you! Connect with us today at 940-557-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.