AUSTIN (KXAN) — The scenes are heart-wrenching — often children are crying, not wanting to leave their parents as they experience a deluge of emotions including fear, confusion and sadness. This while strangers working for the state come into the children’s homes and take them away from their families.
The children are placed into vehicles with only a few of their belongings and taken to a place they have never seen before, not knowing when they might be able to see their families again. It is a traumatic reality for hundreds of Central Texas children.
“That’s scary for anybody. And to imagine children going through that process is just extraordinary. That is the way that we do it. I believe there are better ways to do it. I believe there’s a better model for how that kind of transition has to occur,” said the Honorable Aurora Martinez Jones.
Judge Martinez Jones presides over the 126th District Court and is an expert in child welfare. Among many things, she is tasked with the heavy responsibility of deciding whether to remove a child from his or her adoptive home, fully knowing there are not enough resources within the state to care for the child.
“If I’m looking at them going into a CPS office, I have to balance whether or not that is actually in their best interest or if they should stay home with some safety measures, and other supports and resources put in place.”
Right now, there are 1,200 children currently in the Central Texas foster care system.
Typically, 55-60 children enter the foster care system each month in Travis County. However, the number of children going into foster care for each month in 2021 is down to under 50 in Travis County.
Judge Martinez Jones attributes this decline of cases to the pandemic and other changes in the child welfare system.
The judge said kids are forced to sleep in Child Protective Services’ offices. These kids are mostly teenagers and, on average, 14 years old.
“As of this week, I received the update that we have about 160 plus kids who are without placement across the state” said Martinez Jones.
She told KXAN’s Britt Moreno we are dealing with a “child placement crisis” here in Central Texas. The area needs more foster parents who are willing to be trained to take on troubled teenagers who need a significant amount of support.
“It is hard to focus on improving other areas of the child welfare system, when we know we have children who are actually not being served well,” said Judge Martinez Jones. She goes on to say, “and so right now, the child placement crisis is the biggest thing that we really have to focus on and fix as soon as possible. It is very critical.”
The other complication to the system includes the Texas Foster Care System embroiled in a federal lawsuit that has included stories of abuse and neglect.
In 2015, Judge Janis Jack ruled the Texas foster care system was broken and ordered the state to make changes. By September 2020, state officials were again warned they could be held in contempt of court if reforms were not implemented.
“And we’re still seeing repercussions and impact to the current situation and child welfare because of that federal lawsuit,” said Martinez Jones.
KXAN has a partnership with two nonprofits who assist children in foster care: “Central Texas Table of Grace” and “Carrying Hope”. On Thursday, KXAN employees put together “hope packs” for children entering foster care, which are backpacks with necessities. KXAN hopes to provide a little comfort to those kids during what is a troubling time.