Texas must reform system to help foster children

Leah Kashar

Texas’ foster care system is overworked and under-regulated, leading to thousands upon thousands of children who end up worse off for the system for the lack of proper care. The worst part of this vicious cycle is that this is not new — the system has been this way, despite constant reevaluations. Every year, it is decided that the entire system needs an overhaul, and it never happens.

John Specia, the overseer of Child Protective Services, will be resigning on May 31. Texas needs to take this opportunity for a fresh start to focus on proper evaluations of its system and implement reforms designed to bring out targeted solutions.

The primary problem with Texas’ foster care system is a lack of proper space and care for children. This leads to many children ending up in group homes, psychiatric wards or even juvenile detention. An estimated 80 percent of children in the foster care system have emotional or behavioral disorders, developmental delays or substance abuse issues, and 65 to 70 percent of children in juvenile detention face the same issues. Many of the 29,000 children in the Texas foster care system end up in juvenile detention, in what is euphemistically called “dual status,” though Texas does not have exact records on this tragic cycle.

Improper collection and handling of data are massive barriers keeping officials from helping these kids. Though the state tracks abuse by foster parents and caretakers, the data is often murky and incomplete. Data regarding child-on-child abuse is even less complete, despite often being more emotionally and physically damaging.

Though more money or staffing would help these issues, challenging circumstances surrounding the investigation process are more difficult to overcome. Children are asked by an officer if they have faced abuse in foster care, which is well intentioned but ineffective in the presence of those that are often complicit in the abuse.

Children in the foster care system have already faced severe trauma. The foster care system is not a haven for them. They are bounced around from often abusive home to abusive home if they stay out of juvenile detention. The system has become so overcrowded that children are spending time in psychiatric facilities, even when they do not have psychiatric issues or when they are ready to be dismissed, but have no suitable place to go.

Considering 20 to 30 percent of Austin’s homeless population is made up of people who have been phased out of the foster care system, there are clearly changes that need to be made. Many of the children who have been subjects of lawsuits against the foster care system have then run away from their homes due to abuse, meaning that these lawsuits never make it to a judge.

Texas has implemented mental health and safety tracking procedures that are addressing the right issues. Unfortunately, these have not brought about tangible results because the state has not committed to its own efforts. More funding needs to be put into ensuring that children are in safe and caring homes and not being held in psychiatric wards unnecessarily. Furthermore, more programs should be implemented in order to effectively care for children who need psychiatric help, hopefully reducing the number who run away, end up in juvenile detention, or on the street.

Kashar is a English freshman from Scarsdale, New York. Follow her on Twitter @leahkasharDT.