After Bexar County’s state-appointed provider of foster care placement ended its contract last week amid allegations of abuse and neglect, another San Antonio emergency shelter for foster children is set to close.
The George Gervin Basic Center will close its doors in the coming weeks and is looking to find placement for the four children in its care by June 21, according to an email the center sent out Wednesday to other children’s shelters in the area, asking if they had space to take in more children. Word of the closure came just four weeks after The Children’s Shelter was ordered to close, overwhelming an already taxed Bexar County foster care system.
The center, which is part of the George Gervin Youth Center, provides emergency shelter, food, clothing, counseling, and health care referrals for girls ages 12 to 17 for up to 21 days. Its website says it “seeks to reunite young people with their families whenever possible, or to locate appropriate alternative placements.”
Currently Basic Center staff are looking for safe placement for the four girls in their charge, said programs coordinator Dewana Nelson.
The shelter is closing because George Gervin Youth Center CEO and Superintendent Frances Boynes said she will be retiring in the coming weeks. As the only licensed administrator at the center, the shelter will have to cease operations with Boynes’ departure.
Because the center is still in good standing with the state, it could reopen later if another licensed administrator comes onboard, Boynes said.
Although the number of children in the George Gervin Basic Center shelter is small, its closure highlights an existing problem finding placement for foster care children. Ongoing problems in the state’s foster care system came to a head locally in April when the state Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) ordered the Children’s Shelter, an emergency center for children entering foster care, to temporarily close and immediately find other placements for the kids there.
Last week, the DFPS said it would take over the placement of Bexar County’s foster children after Family Tapestry, the division of the Children’s Shelter that held a contract with the state, canceled its contract with the state as the provider responsible for finding homes and services for Bexar County’s children in the foster care system.
The Basic Center is still working with Family Tapestry staff during its transition period to find safe placement for the girls, Nelson said.
Since the Children’s Shelter closed last month, reports of abuse taking place inside its facilities have begun to surface.
A report filed by monitors earlier this month stemming from a decade-old lawsuit over the foster care system in Texas further cited instances of abuse and neglect at the Whataburger Center for Children and Youth – one of the Children’s Shelter’s facilities.
According to accompanying reports, examples of abuse allegations at the center include the physical assault of a 17-year-old female who was thrown on the floor which resulted in her hitting her face on the ground, and a sexual assault involving two of the teenagers at the center.
The Whataburger Center for Children and Youth, which surrendered its state license to place children in January, was found to have been illegally operating for two months following its supposed closure, according to a report by the Texas Tribune.
However, it wasn’t until a whistleblower came forward in March and made the court-appointed monitors aware of the situation that DFPS took action against the Children’s Shelter and Family Tapestry. The state ordered the facility to relocate the children in the center to other licensed foster care placements, which it did by March 25, five days after the order.
After the emergency shelter was ordered to close down in April, all children were vacated from Children’s Shelter facilities, but due to lack of space in local shelters, some were placed in other unlicensed locations such as the CPS office, sources told the San Antonio Report last week.
The reason stated in the letter from DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters for the Children’s Shelter’s closure was Family Tapestry’s rejection of three additional children a day after the center had been reprimanded for rejecting six children. As Bexar County’s single source continuum contractor, Family Tapestry is not allowed to turn down children.
“Today, less than 24 hours later, I learned that Family Tapestry has not found placement for an additional three children who remain in the DFPS office,” Masters said in the letter. “While you contend this is not a violation of the contract, it is exactly that. Again, I advise you this continued course of action is not sustainable and will not be tolerated.”
Masters went on to call the situation at the Children’s Shelter “unacceptable and threatens the safey of the children.”
In a response letter sent to DFPS on April 29, Children’s Shelter President and CEO Annette Rodriguez defended Family Tapestry and stated that the shelter needs more help to handle a capacity crisis, which she states caused many of the facility’s issues.
“The SSCC Contract needs to be amended to recognize and account for the increased costs of supporting the needs of children/youth in placement in light of the unanticipated and ongoing capacity crisis and the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rodriguez wrote.
With only 12 days left in the 87th Texas Legislative session, child advocates across Texas hope government officials will quickly address the state’s overstrained, underfunded foster care system. The problems are particularly acute in Bexar County, which is responsible for 12 percent of the kids in the foster care system statewide, more than any other county.
According to state data, 282 children spent two or more nights in CPS offices in April, said Jesse Booher, senior vice president and chief operating officer of DePelchin Children’s Center, an accredited foster care and adoption agency with four locations across Texas including one in San Antonio. In April of 2020 that number was only 47.
“The challenges that we’ve all been seeing right now is that volume of need has outpaced our ability to offer the services necessary,” Booher said. “We’re seeing more families that need services than we have the ability to provide at the moment.”
Many child placement facilities are trying to handle the oncoming onslaught, but to do so in a high quality way “takes time and it takes resources,” Booher said.