Governor Greg Abbott has approved an $8 million grant to re-house hundreds of foster kids who have been victims of crime and are currently living in state institutions.
The grant will specifically back a pilot program, run by the Department of Family and Protective Services, that will test the state’s ability to find permanent, supportive housing for the state’s most traumatized foster children. The program will provide “wraparound care,” individualized medical care and behavioral therapy, for some 500 foster kids in four yet-to-be-announced locations across the state. It’s not certain what the children’s living arrangement will look like, but Abbott said it will be the "the least restrictive and most appropriate setting."
It’s bound to be an upgrade from where most of the kids are coming from — state psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers, the resting place for kids who aren’t able to find a stable home.
“By better coordinating the care of our highest needs children in the foster care system, we will begin to unwind the abuse and trauma they have endured,” Abbott said in a Wednesday press release.
Foster care advocates are applauding the decision, grateful to see some movement after months of indecision from Texas’ top officials on how to fix the struggling foster system.
"Texas has struggled to provide enough of the right kind of services and homes for kids in foster care to really heal,” said Kate Murphy, a senior policy associate with Texans Care for Children. “This pilot...is another good step forward.”
Murphy said the proposed “wraparound” care model is considered one of the most effective solutions for children who’ve experienced severe trauma.
“Children who receive wraparound services are hospitalized less often, have fewer arrests, sustain their mental health improvements, have less suicidal behavior, and even tend to do better in school,” she said.
The $8 million comes directly from Abbott's office’s criminal justice division, pulled from federal funding meant to support victims of crime. To qualify for the program, DFPS must prove a child has been a victim of crime and has been hospitalized more than once over a 12-month period.
Abbott’s announcement comes less than a month after state lawmakers approved $150 million in funding to help DFPS hire more caseworkers and improve the salaries for those already employed, all in hopes of improving the agency’s 43 percent yearly retention rate. Absent from Abbott’s decision, however, is any mention of the 56 recommendations foster care experts handed state officials in last month, after being tasked by a federal judge to find solutions to the state’s foster care dilemma. Attorney General Ken Paxton was quick to dismiss the suggestions, calling them “impractical” and a waste of taxpayer’s money.
Wednesday's announcement surely isn’t the end to lawmakers’ involvement in improving a foster care program that’s been accused of violating children's human rights. State lawmakers have already filed a number of bills for the looming legislative session that focus on different gaps in DFPS — and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, has said he’ll make the state’s most vulnerable children a priority this coming session.
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