Texas foster care crisis getting worse, former case worker says

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the pandemic continues to drag on, a former case worker says the already widely publicized foster care crisis in Texas is only getting worse.

“We have so many children in care, it might be due to the pandemic, there’s a lot of stress on families,” Mayra Butler, a former case worker in District 7, which houses Austin, said. Butler is now the chief executive officer for Homes in Harmony. “We have seen a rise in which there’s more drug usage on the biological parents.”

In July, national officials announced that overdose deaths went up in 2020 by roughly 30%. A record 93,000 people died of an overdose in the United States last year.

Butler also says they’ve seen a spike of kids coming into the foster care system as schools have reopened over the past couple of months.

In the state of Texas, as is the case in almost all states, teachers and school employees are considered mandatory reporters, which means they are legally required to report suspicions of abuse and neglect. They can be charged for not doing so.

“Now that the children are coming back and reporting to teachers of things that might have happened to them of abuse, neglect…so now they’re starting to share with teachers and so that’s where the rise comes in and there’s an overload of children in the DFPS offices,” Butler said.

Mandatory reporters

Even though DFPS says the total number of reports of abuse or neglect have not been significantly higher this year than they have previously around this time, there has been a shift in who is making those reports.

In 2018, more than 66,100 reports of neglect or abuse were made by schools in Texas, that was followed by more than 56,600 made by law enforcement. The numbers were similar in 2019.

In 2020, though, reports made by law enforcement outpaced reports made by schools. There were roughly 20,000 less reports made statewide by school officials.

Statewide Intake: Source of Abuse/Neglect Reports (courtesy TDFPS)

Foster care failures in Texas, the latest

According to a report released last month by a group of independent court monitors overseeing a federal lawsuit against the state, 501 children spent at least one night in an unlicensed placement in the first half of this year alone.

Some children spent more than 100 consecutive nights without a “proper” placement. The report found that 86% of these children were teenagers, and many of them require intense or specialized care, due to serious mental health needs or past trauma, that they likely weren’t receiving.

The report also noted Texas has lost more than 1,600 foster beds since January 2020. DFPS officials have continually pointed to this loss of foster beds and treatment center closures as their reason for lacking placements for high-needs children.

“There is a dire need for a lot of foster homes, all over the state of Texas,” Butler said.

‘We do need our community to be more involved’

Seeing the desperate need for foster families in Texas, Butler, and a foster family that Butler knows from case work, opened their own foster and adoption agency out of Laredo. It also serves District 7, which houses Austin. They were officially contracted with the state in April of this year.

What they really need right now, Butler says, is for people to step up and open their homes to these kids.

“There is a great need. We do have constant emergency placements needed and children that are waiting in the office to be placed, especially teenagers,” Butler said.

The qualifications to be a foster parent might be less strict than you think. You can be single, you can be renting an apartment (as long a a child will have their own private space), you can be retired. Homes in Harmony has a detailed list of requirements on their website.

“If you can provide a home that is safe, if you can provide love that is genuine, and just want to help a child in need, you’re highly qualified,” Butler said.

You can find the foster parent application for Homes in Harmony here.

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