Family Tapestry is weaving together over 30 local agencies to transform the foster care experience in Bexar County. Credit: Courtesy / Family Tapestry

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In December 2015, a federal judge in Corpus Christi deemed the Texas foster care system unconstitutional. During the 85th Texas legislative session in 2017, Governor Abbott made it a top priority to reform the foster care system. Most recently during the 86th legislative session, we saw the continuation of an effort to support a reform of the foster care system by expanding Community Based Care to additional geographical areas in Texas.

Community Based Care (CBC) was formerly Foster Care Redesign. It was renamed Community Based Care in Senate Bill 11 during the 85th legislative session to demonstrate the goal to move the Texas child welfare system from a “one size fits all” approach to a community-based model designed to meet the individual needs of children and youth at the local level.

Five years ago, Our Community Our Kids, a division of ACH in Fort Worth, was selected to be the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ Single Source Continuum Contractor (SSCC) to implement Community Based Care in catchment area 3b, which includes Fort Worth and the seven surrounding counties, as a legislative directive to improve the state’s foster care system.

CBC is implemented in staged approaches. The SSCC is responsible for foster care and adoptive placements, Supervised Independent Living, and Preparation for Adult Living services in Stage I, and in Stage II case management responsibilities are transferred from DFPS to the SSCC.

CBC builds upon the strengths of Child Protective Services and their more than three decades of work to ensure children and youth in foster care stay in their home communities, address the foster care home shortfall, and improve the overall safety, health, and well-being for children and youth in foster care in each designated catchment area across Texas.

During the 85th legislative session, SB 11 expanded CBC to Regions 2, consisting of 30 rural counties in North Central Texas that include Abilene and Wichita Falls, and Region 8a-Bexar County. During the 86th Texas legislative session, foster care may not have been one of the top five priorities by the Big Three (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House), but there was still much work being done to improve the foster care system across the Lone Star State.

House Bill 1, the General Appropriations Act, which according to Texas Legislature Online was sent to the governor on June 5, 2019, includes expansion of Community Based Care in two additional catchment areas for Stage I, and that includes Region 1, which consists of 41 counties in the Texas Panhandle, including Lubbock and Region 8b, which are the 27 rural counties around Bexar County spanning from Del Rio to Victoria, the Hill Country, including Kerrville, and down to Atascosa.

The legislature during this session approved expanding Community Based Care into Stage II for Regions 3b (Fort Worth), Region 2 (North Central Texas), and Region 8a (Bexar County) to assume the roles and responsibilities of case management. The role and responsibilities of Child Protective Services to remove children and youth from their home due to abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment remains with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Community Based Care allows the SSCC to focus on placement of the child, along with care coordination.

In August of 2018, Family Tapestry, a division of The Children’s Shelter was selected to be the SSCC for Region 8a-Bexar County, the most populous catchment area implementing Community Based Care thus far. During the six month start-up phase, Family Tapestry’s leadership facilitated community engagement sessions with foster care and adoptive agencies, foster youth alumni, support service organizations, faith-based groups, philanthropic partners, and community leaders. The intent was to begin building a robust Model of Care with the needs of Bexar County foster children and youth’s needs front-and-center.

Recognizing that a tailored approach would require funds not currently provided by the state budget, Annette Rodriguez, President/CEO of The Children’s Shelter and Family Tapestry, in partnership with community philanthropists, Tullos Wells, Managing Director of the Kronkosky Foundation, Harvey E. Najim, Gary Woods, long-time Children’s Shelter board member and supporter, along with other philanthropic partners was able to amass more than $7.28 million of community dollars.

The $7.28 million was a testament to the belief in the Community Based Care model, to develop a public-private partnership and transform the foster care experience for all children and youth in Bexar County. The dollars raised will go back to enhancing the Family Tapestry network, which consists of more than 60 foster care, adoptive, and residential organizations from Bexar and surrounding counties.

On February 1, 2019, Family Tapestry went live at 8 a.m. in Bexar County moving into Stage I of implementation, assuming the role of finding paid foster care placements for children, youth, and young adults in extended care, adoptive recruitment and associated services, Preparation for Adult Living, and Supervised Independent Living for young adults. In Bexar County, there are at least 2,000 children and youth in foster homes across our community. That does not account for the thousands of children and youth living with a relative caregiver.

We have learned in the more than 90 days under Community Based Care that a spirit of collaboration exists, bringing organizations together to address gaps in the foster care system. For example, addressing homelessness prevention among foster youth who age out of foster care, organizations such as THRU Project, SAMMinistries, and THRIVE Center who are working in this space. By bringing them together, we can work towards preventing youth homelessness, and prevent human and sex trafficking.

Another gap we have identified is the lack of targeted recruitment for foster families who can address the specific needs of children and youth in Bexar County. Our children and youth in foster care need therapeutic foster care homes trained in trauma-informed care and attuned and prepared to meet the children’s mental health care needs, along with addressing their emotional, physical, educational, and social well-being. Our community is in desperate need of families, who can provide short-term foster care for children with primary medical needs, youth who have emotional and behavioral challenges due to their complex trauma, pre-teens and teens ages 12 to 17, large sibling groups, youth and children discharging from a psychiatric hospital, and youth with substance use disorders.

An example of Community Based Care and the transformative experience for children and youth in Bexar County is through the generous monetary gift from the Dobson Family and Whataburger to create the first ever placement and intake center in the entire state of Texas and the first Whataburger Center for Children and Youth in Bexar County. This gift helped repurpose an existing general residential operation.

Family Tapestry met during the start-up phase with CPS to discuss gaps in service. CPS Investigators shared that there is not a central location where children and youth can go when they are removed from their biological home due to maltreatment. CPS Investigators have the children in the back seat of the car while they are calling and coordinating their foster care home placement.

Family Tapestry and The Children’s Shelter created the Family Tapestry Intake and Placement Center, a centralized location where CPS can bring children and youth, so they have a therapeutic entry into foster care. They can receive fresh clothes, take a bath, eat food, watch TV, and play games.

The gift also gave an opportunity to build a program primarily for teens who have difficulty maintaining their foster care placement due to difficult behaviors, as result of emotional disturbances, substance use, and/or involvement with juvenile detention. Under Community Based Care, no child or youth can sleep in an office. As a result, we were able to create the Whataburger Center for Children and Youth. Thus far, we have served 78 children and youth who otherwise would be sleeping in an office in Bexar County.

These are our children. They come from our neighborhoods, our City Council districts. They are our responsibility. We have an opportunity to maximize each youth’s potential, engage their voice and power, so they have a chance at a meaningful and hopeful future.

A division of The Children’s Shelter, Family Tapestry is the first comprehensive program of Community Based Care for foster children in Bexar County. Their network of over 30 local partners is enhancing...