UT social work researchers evaluate Texas’ foster care reforms

Trevor Heise

A team of faculty and researchers at UT’s Center for Social Work Research will begin compiling a comprehensive report to advise the state in overhauling its foster care system this month.

The overhaul is a part of the Texas Foster Care Redesign initiative, which was launched in June 2010 by the state to accomplish a broad reform of the state’s foster care system. The initiative began with a study period in which more than 3,000 stakeholders, including youth in foster care and foster care providers, could offer recommendations on foster care reform. Following these surveys, Gov. Rick Perry signed into law Senate Bill 218, which began the implementation of changes in the foster care system.

The state will use the center’s research to evaluate the program’s performance. Funding has been provided by the Casey Family Program’s charity for UT researchers to collect and analyze data on employee engagement and the progress of the reforms, research associate and lecturer Noel Landuyt said.

“The evaluation is ongoing, and the results aren’t in yet,” Landuyt said. “So we can’t tell much right now.”

The initiative mandated pay-for-performance measures meant to improve the quality and timeliness of foster care providers’ services and required children to be placed as close as possible to their home communities.

“This is a program of national significance in terms of what the state hopes to accomplish,” social work professor Arthur Schwab said. “The state is trying to make big changes in how foster care services are delivered.”

Social work professor Ruth Fagan said placing children in locations near their home communities is helpful in preserving important family bonds and reducing the friction of the placement process.

“For most children, to be in a local community where they have connections to family and friends is much better — like it would be for any of us,” Fagan said.

Though current reforms are taking place mostly through pilot programs in North Texas, both the state and foster care providers intend to build on successes and eventually make the reforms statewide. Schwab said he is hopeful the reforms will improve the quality of Texas’ foster care system.

“Currently, we’re in the middle of preparing the initial evaluation,” Schwab said. “But we anticipate this to be a continuing relationship and are planning on continuing to evaluate Texas’ foster care reforms into the future.”