State struggles to meet foster care needs

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A recent report released by the Department of Family and Protective Services shows abused and neglected children across Texas continue to stay in motels, shelters and government offices because of a lack of foster homes.

DFPS reported a seven-month high of 65 children “without placement” in March.

This situation can lead to dire consequences.

In early April, a 15-year-old girl was run over and killed after running away from a state office in northwest Harris County.

In January, a 12-year-old girl disappeared for a time after running away from a CPS facility in southwest Houston.

"There's just simply not enough people coming forward to provide foster care," said DeJuanna Jernigan, director of child welfare and residential treatment services for the DePelchin Children’s Center.

Depelchin is one the state's biggest partners in recruiting and training foster families. Jernigan said a lack of understanding about the foster care system is preventing many people from volunteering. She said another reason is over the years many foster families adopted the children they took in.

"Many families will often stop fostering after they have satisfied that goal," said Jernigan.

Another tangent of this problem is a higher number of children requiring specialized care, like victims of sex trafficking.

"We have fewer foster families, naturally, who are tenured enough to be able to meet those needs," said Jernigan.

State lawmakers have been working on fixing the myriad problems at DFPS. Recently, the state gave the department an emergency infusion of more than $140 million, but that money went towards front line investigations and hiring more investigators. There has been no long term solution yet to the lack of foster homes.

State lawmakers are debating several bills that address a range of issues plaguing DFPS. In terms of bolstering the foster care system, some of what is being proposed includes raising the money certain foster families would receive each month, contracting with out-of-state agencies to take in some children and engaging the help of more faith-based organizations.

The state is also partnering with private organizations to build facilities that can care for abused and neglected children with more specialized needs.

Jernigan said fixing this problem will take time because of the process needed to train and vet new foster families.

“That could take generally about 90 to 120 days,” said Jernigan.

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