A federal judge ruled recently that Texas’ long-term foster care system is “broken.” In North Texas, a Fort Worth-based nonprofit has been working out the kinks in a model that could redesign the entire system, giving more flexibility to local organizations to address the problems outlined in the judge’s opinion.
U.S. District Judge Janet Graham Jack said the Texas system violates the constitutional rights of the nearly 30,000 kids in its care. She wrote it shuttles them through as “a system where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm.”
Jack says the children “almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.”
The judge ordered a special state administrator be appointed to overhaul the system.
“I think it’s good to be very blunt that we have some issues in this state that need to be addressed,” said Wayne Carson, CEO of ACH Family Services in Fort Worth, which provides foster care and oversees other providers.
Carson says what’s not reflected in Judge Jack’s opinion is the work that has been going on in Tarrant and six other counties to the west and south over the last few years. His organization is leading a new model for foster care in Texas -- one that’s focused on local control and a more consolidated approach.
“In the old system, there were 44 providers that were all working independently and kind of in isolation from each other,” Carson says. “Now many of those providers work as part of our network and there’s the ability to coordinate care that occurs for all children in the network in a way that’s never before happened in Texas.”
Under the redesign, Carson’s organization and the providers they work with have specific mandates to keep kids safe. The goal is to keep them local, keep siblings together and keep kids from bouncing from placement to placement.
He says reading the judge’s ruling was frustrating – partly because there are major challenges in the system, and partly because the lawsuit was filed before his model was in place.
“We’ve seen in a little over two years in redesign starting to make improvements in ways that we haven’t been able to do in 20 years,” he says.
Even though Judge Jack’s ruling called an earlier attempt at redesign an abject failure, she makes clear that the Tarrant County-based redesign will continue. A new region of the state will start using that model next year.
It’ll be up to the court-appointed administrator to decide if it really is the best way to fix systemic problems in the Texas foster care system.