Senate Bill 218 went into effect this month. Section 11 of this bill requires the Texas Department of Family Services (DFPS) to “implement a redesign of the foster care system,” in accordance with the Foster Care Redesign Report submitted in January 2011.
The Foster Care Redesign Report discusses the lack of local services available to children in foster care and the detrimental effects it has on those children. The report proposes a new system to encourage local service provider growth so that children are not moved all over the state from their home communities in order to receive necessary services. The proposed system would also implement incentives to service providers to perform their job well and recognize service providers who are succeeding at providing high quality services and care for these children.
These principles serve as the foundation for the proposed redesigned system:
- Children are safe in their placements.
- Children are placed in their home communities.
- Children are appropriately served in the least restrictive environment that supports minimal moves for the child.
- Connections to family and others important to the child are maintained.
- Children are placed with siblings.
- Services respect the child’s culture.
- In order to be fully prepared for successful adulthood, children and youth are provided opportunities, experiences, and activities similar to those experienced by their non-foster care peers.
- Children and youth are provided opportunities to participate in decisions that impact their lives.
These goals sound great, but the difficulty in creating a system that effectively produces these outcomes is yet to be seen, especially with budgetary constraints. Former protective services chief, Anne Heilingenstein, who made a surprise announcement of her retirement last month, no longer seems hopeful. Heilingenstein is a staunch supporter and advocate for the proposed Foster Care Redesign, but with the lack of support from budget lawmakers and financial resources, she seems to have reached burn out in just three years.
Who knows what the future holds for the Texas foster care system and the children it serves? The plan looks good on paper, but effective implementation is yet to be determined.