State officials say major progress is being made in resolving multiple problems which led the state to declare the foster care system 'broken,' and make it a key priority of last year's Legislature session, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Hank Whitman, a career Texas Ranger who last year was brought in to run the department that oversees foster care and child protective services, told an interim State Senate committee that one turnaround has been a large increase in the number of private homes which are certified to house foster kids.
"In January of 2017, there were a total of 9,764 homes," Whitman said. "In January of 2018, there were 10,718, an increase of 11%."
Whitman pointed out that adopting a foster child is not like something out of a TV show. He says all foster kids have suffered the major emotional stress that comes with living in a family environment that is so dysfunctional that the children have to be removed. In addition, many suffer from major physical or mental challenges which require specially trained foster parents to deal with.
Whitman says a decision by Gov. Abbott to actively engaged the faith based community has been a major improvement, with churches, church related groups, and the faithful frequently diving into the issue, with significant impact.
"We have had several faith communities step up to provide transportation services for doctors visits or court appointments. We have had churches step up to make basic home repairs for not only for our foster families for for a troubled child's actual family, to allow us to keep the kids safely at home."
Whitman also stressed what is called 'kinship care,' which he says is the type of foster care that is most successful. It involves finding a qualified relative of the child, like a grandparent, to step in when the parents have failed in their duties, and that enables the child to be with adults they know and are comfortable with, and allows the biological parent, when allowed, to interact with the child.
The Legislature also approved a major pay raise for Child Protective Services case workers, which Whitman says has made a major difference in keeping qualified case workers on the job, under frequently stressful conditions, at a time when low unemployment frequently offers other opportunities.
"Our turnover rate is the lowest it has been in ten years," Whitman said, thanking the lawmakers for the pay raise. "We are the lowest among all state agencies right now."
Whitman also said he will write up a long range plan for continued improvement and have it for lawmakers in time for the 2019 session.