By Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA CEO
Each May, we observe National Foster Care Month, taking the time to raise awareness of the 400,000+ children and youth in foster care across the country. This year’s theme is Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents.
It’s an unfortunate and common misconception that once children enter foster care, they’re safe, or even better off away from their families. But this couldn’t be further from the truth for most children. Studies actually show that children do better when they can stay connected with their family and community. Whatever the situation that led to CPS involvement, the current process is difficult, traumatic and damaging, both for the child and the family. What’s more, the majority of CPS cases actually involve neglect, not abuse—and neglect can mean anything from struggling with a substance use disorder to leaving a child alone during a job interview.
CPS-involved parents are in crisis, and the vast majority of them love their children and want them to be able to grow up, at home, safely, with their families. Take this true story as an example.
Rachel, a mother of three, was battling a substance use disorder. She had been fighting to bring Julissa, Matthew, and Kiara back home for more than a year, and had been clean for a few months. But recovery from substance addiction is a lifelong and difficult process, and relapse is a common part of the journey. At the 15-month mark of the case, Rachel relapsed. DFPS requested a hearing, and the judge ordered that the state take permanent custody of her kids. Her parental rights, however, were not terminated, which meant she still had a chance.
CASA volunteer Melissa, and foster mother Anela, were very supportive of Rachel throughout her journey. A Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) team, consisting of Melissa, Anela, Rachel’s sister, the CPS caseworker and supervisor, and a few others on the case, was formed with one goal in mind: to support Rachel so that she could hopefully be reunited with her children as she got back on track with her recovery.
One of Rachel’s biggest challenges to getting her children back was housing insecurity. Together, the team came up with an innovative solution: Rachel and the kids would temporarily live with foster mother Anela. This would allow all of Rachel’s children to have a smooth transition back into her care, while preserving the bond with Anela, until Rachel could figure out permanent housing.
Rachel was able to apply for a housing voucher, secure an apartment, and finally get settled with her children. After two-and-a-half tough years, the case came to a close, with the family happily reunited. All three kids are growing up home with their mother—safe, happy, healthy and loved.
Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents… during what has been an especially isolating and stressful year, it’s more important than ever that we work hard to take this mantra to heart, meaningfully support parents like Rachel, and keep children like Julissa, Matthew and Kiara connected with the people they love most.
The child welfare system in Texas is shifting to become more family focused, and I’m proud to be able to say that the CASA network in Texas has been a leader in this effort. In Fiscal Year 2020, 81% of cases with a CASA volunteer ended with the child staying with family in some capacity. With our innovative family finding and engagement approach Collaborative Family Engagement taking root all across the state and making a difference for families like Rachel’s, I am hopeful that that number will continue to grow.
Right now in Texas, there are 48,000 children in the foster care system. Many of them are missing their parents, friends and communities. All of them deserve a dedicated advocate who will stand by their side and work hard to keep them safely connected with the people and places they love. Will you help?