Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kudos to Judge Carole Clarke

In September of this year, Carole Clark, a Texas family court judge, convened a group of almost 100 child care professionals to conduct an overview of the foster care system in East Texas.

Judge Clark did this to address a myriad of concerns...
- 19,000 children are in the Texas foster care system at any given time.
- 32,500 children passed through the system last year.

- Over the past three years, the number of foster parents in East Texas has decreased by 20%.
- Meanwhile, there has been an increased number of children entering the foster care system, due to family members being hooked on methamphetamine.

- Caseloads are twice as high as they were in 1998, when former Gov. George W. Bush declared the Texas foster care system "in crisis."
- Jobless couples have been taking in as many as 6-8 emotionally disturbed foster children as their primary form of income

After reviewing the current situation in depth, several suggestions were made:

1.) Instituting a cap on foster family size. Texas has four levels of reimbursement for foster care, and payments increase according to the severity of physical or behavioral problems. Right now, foster families can take in up to six "moderately" disturbed children -- and Judge Clark wants to decrease that number to four or fewer.

2.) Stop moving children once they improve: The state's financial incentive is to move foster children who have improved their behavior to homes licensed for less troubled youth. This practice does not benefit the foster child -- rather, it actually encourages the child not to improve, because to do so means another loss of stability.

3.) Shorten the chain of command. Let local CPS workers call the shots about what happens to children. Give the people in the trenches the authority to make decisions.

4.) Stop separating siblings. Panel members realized that for children who have been separated from their parents, siblings often represent the only "family" that they have...

5.) Revisit the idea of group homes. The least popular suggestion that Judge Clark made was for the state to consider creating permanent residential facilities, which might offer more stability than frequent moves between foster homes.

Her idea is for these facilities to be staffed by both hourly shift workers and live-in foster parents.

Why was this suggestion so unpopular?
In philosophies and other schools of thought, people often adhere unquestioningly to one viewpoint, then reject it and, in a knee-jerk reaction, take the polar opposite view.

Over the years, there has been a pendulum swing regarding public opinion towards group homes is concerned.

When I was in foster care in the 1980's, I lived in group homes, due to the shortage of available foster homes and the lack of foster parents who were willing to take in older children. I lived in residential facilities from ages 12 to 16, when I started college.

Group homes weren't perfect. I just wonder at the fact that, rather than trying to fix those problems, many people have rejected group homes altogether.

I think that we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater by trading poorly screened staff at group homes for overloaded caseworkers and poorly screened foster parents.

A teenager residing in a well-run group home for several years with stable staff could build a base of emotional stability. According to the 70 Developmental Assets for youth, teens and tweens need at least one stable adult in their lives that they can rely on.

Why not try it?
I think Smith County should create some group homes for teenagers, and staff them with well-trained professionals. Group home staff should be carefully screened and supervised. Foster care alumni insights should be sought about many issues.

Sometimes considering creative solutions can constitute a risk in losing popularity. It is a worthwhile risk, and I am glad that Judge Clark is taking it.

Garrett, Robert. Judge sees crisis in foster care; Her panel suggests group homes, more control for CPS workers. Dallas Morning News, Oct. 16, 2006.

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Thanks for visiting my blog today...I have forgotten all the first hand heart ache that goes with the foster care system as it stands. I love all the info you have on here, I teach at my local university and plan on using some of this info during lecture...
I'll check back again..
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