Locating Missing Children in CPS Conservatorship

Children are in foster care because they, or their sibling(s), have experienced abuse and/or neglect. Having experienced trauma in their lives, these young children are particularly vulnerable to being exploited by outside persons. When a child is in CPS conservatorship and runs away, it is extremely important that the agency put every effort to quickly locate the child before they are exploited.

National data underscores the need to find runaway children quickly:

  • Children are being approached for sex trafficking within 48 hours of running away
  • Many of the children approached are in the age range of 12 to 16
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had 18,500 runaways reported to them in2016. One in six were deemed likely victims of sex trafficking. Of those likely victims, 86% were in the care of social services or the foster care system when they ran.In 2014, President Obama signed into law the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, Public Law (P.L. 113-183). This law amends the title IV-E foster care program to require child welfare agencies such as DFPS to:
  • Develop and implement specific protocols for expeditiously locating any child missing from foster care;
  • Determine the primary factors that contributed to the child’s running away or otherwise being absent from care, and to the extent possible and appropriate, respond to those factors in current and subsequent placements;
  • Determine the child’s experiences while absent from care, including screening the child to determine if the child is a possible sex trafficking victim;
  • Report such related information as required by Health and Human Services; and
  • No later than 24 hours after receiving information on missing or abducted children or youth, providenecessary information to law enforcement authorities for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and provide necessary information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Click Here for the full DFPS Resource Guide

Keys to foster parent recruitment & retention in Texas

The following is a transcript of an invited testimony given by Denise Kendrick, Executive Director of Embrace Texas, to the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services on March 22, 2018. Kendrick was given 7 minutes to address obstacles prevent prospective foster families from completing the licensing process and how to improve retention of existing foster parents.

“Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak.

I am Denise Kendrick, Executive Director for Embrace Texas, a non-profit organization supporting foster, adoptive and kinship families in North Texas. To be clear, we are not a child placing agency. My work includes facilitating foster parent support groups and administering programs that provide me the opportunity to interact with hundreds of foster and adoptive families each year. In addition to my professional experience, I served as a foster parent for over a decade and in Texas and cared for 25 children in that time… including adopting two teenagers and a sibling group of 3 from foster care.

Our nonprofit works closely with Child Protective Services in our region, as well as CASA. Embrace also facilitates the Child Placing Recruitment Collaborative In Region 3 and regularly review statistics related to the foster parent shortages in each county. On an almost daily basis, we get calls and emails from CASAs and caseworkers asking if we know of any families in our network who can foster a specific child or sibling group. We are keenly aware of the need for more quality foster parents and see the ramifications of these shortages in our community.

I want to share with you today what we feel are some of the leading obstacles that prevent interested candidates from completing the licensing process and issues that cause burn-out of newly licensed foster parents.

It’s no secret the foster care has a PR problem. When foster care is in the news, it’s almost always bad news. A child death. An abusive foster parent. Children spending the night in CPS offices. For those who look past this negative stigma related to foster parenting and decide to investigate or pursue licensing, the confusing recruitment process can curb the enthusiasm of even the most eager perspective family. While this is an area that can and should be addressed, I believe the real solution to the state’s foster parent recruitment issue lies in the retention of active foster parents.

Current and former foster parents are the single most effective recruitment tool the state has. I come in contact with dozens of foster parents every week, and a huge majority of these report that their initial interest in becoming a foster parent was not a compelling brochure or PSA commercial, but a friend, family member, or acquaintance who is a foster parent. Having court-side seats to the beauty, healing and hardship that comes with opening your heart and home to care for abused and neglected children… it sells itself.

If this journey is intrinsically motivating, where is the disconnect? 

Why aren’t more of these prospective parents becoming licensed?

The disconnect is in our care for those who are already fostering. Care of our current foster parents is doubly beneficial. Increased retention equals increased recruitment. With improved morale and satisfaction, foster parents become the recruitment effort. They tell the stories of the hard and beautiful job of caring for other peoples’ children. And they stick with it for the long-haul, and gain the skills necessary to care for children with more challenging needs. This means more placement stability for children and an increased return on the investment it takes to train and license foster parent.

How do we better care for the families caring for our most vulnerable children?

Back to that PR problem, the State, along with child placing agencies, must take steps to weed out bad foster parents who give fostering a bad name. Agencies should be charged with closing homes that “give notice” on children when the going gets tough or when things aren’t going as they had hoped. We can make the title of “foster parent” something parents can take pride in.

We also need to clarify messaging surrounding the “job” of foster parents. Foster parents are service providers. As a foster parent, you need to meet the need for care that exists in your community. The openings in licensed homes should reflect the age, ethnicity and level of care of children entering the system in their community. It’s supply and demand, but it’s not presented that way. When many homes are licensed for the same, small population of children, on paper, it appears the need has been met. But in reality, we know that a majority of children are placed outside their home county, and a good number out of region. Then  licensed foster homes sit open and empty, and families assume there’s not really a need. This mismatch further dissuades new parents from jumping through the hoops necessary to become licensed.

Another point of confusion and frustration is use of the phrase “foster to adopt”. When I “Drive to the store”, there is no mistake. Driving is the means to the end… the store. When we talk about fostering to adopt, we’re communicating that fostering is means to the end: adoption. We understand that many families foster with the hopes of adopting, but the way we’re framing this communicates that adoption, not reunification, is the ultimate goal.

Words matter.

From the moment prospective families start their licensing and training journey they are labeled “foster to adopt” or “straight foster”. This puts the focus on the goals of the foster family, not the needs of the children.

The true implementation of HR 4980, the prudent parenting standards for foster parents, is another way we can improve retention of foster parents. We need to allow parents to care for foster children in a fashion more similar to their biological children, or typical peers. This increases the normalcy of a child’s time in foster care and reduce strain on caregivers.

Several years ago, when my husband and I were foster parents caring for a sibling group, we had an out of state trip planned for work. We were to depart on New Years Day, and had arranged respite care for our foster children with a fellow foster family who knew and interacted with our children regularly. At 5 pm on New Years Eve we received a call that the respite family had an emergency, and was no longer available to keep our children for the week. Although my parents were willing and capable of caring for the children while we were out of town, they were only certified as “occasional caregivers” with our agency, and not permitted to watch our foster children for more than a day or two. We had not orpiment but to call random foster parents from a roster provided by our agency, in hopes of finding somewhere for the boys to go. I am ashamed to say that, the next morning, I dropped my foster children off at the home of a complete stranger. While she was a licensed foster parent and a safe care provider, I can honestly say it’s something I would never do to my “own” children, but I was left with no other option. Foster parents find themselves in similar situations on a regular basis. These instances are a burden to the parents and promote abnormal parenting decisions. The parents cannot choose what is best, they must choose what follows policy. Foster parents bear the burden of the day-to-day responsibility and risk for caring for the children in their home, but little of the freedom to balance it out. That’s a recipe for burnout.

This unbalance is also reflected in the lack of representation foster parents experience. While I do not believe foster parents should be a party to a child’s legal case, I do believe more consistent communication about the goals and progress in a case would make foster parents feel more valued and go a long way toward improving their overall morale. These parents on the front lines deserve a platform to share their thoughts and observations, and to feel like part of a team working towards a common goal. Foster parents should be consistently invited to attend court and to interact directly with the parents of foster children in their care, when possible. Training can and should be developed specifically to guide foster parents in these interactions.

In summary, improved care and support of foster parents is:

– better for current foster parents

– better for future foster parents

– better for the bottom line

– and, most importantly, will improve outcomes for children at the heart of what we do.

Thank you for your time and consideration.”

      

Let’s Do This

As the new school year has begun, the need for advocating and championing our children is reinvigorated.  

This year our son entered kindergarten.   As I filled out the paperwork, there were so many things that I could answer (where he went to preschool,  what he loves, what scares him, his birthdate) but there were also so many things that I could not answer (first words, first steps, family history).  This always gives me a sense of sadness and brings up all the “what if’s”.  I know that this does me no good, but I also know that it is important to mourn what could have been in order to come to a realization of what is.  

As I turned in a neuropsychologist’s report with the other stack of papers, I realized I was asking the school to look at my child differently.  Yes, to treat him differently.  Yes, I was inviting them in to see the “yuck” of my child.  Yes, I was admitting that my child is not like the other children.  Yes, I was admitting that I, his parent, would not be enough for my child.  Yes, I was admitting that I, too, would need help.    No, I was not asking them to allow poor behaviors.  No, I was not suggesting they  tolerate laziness, but I was asking them to understand where he has come from, what has happened in his life, and to help him achieve his best.  

The school called, and we scheduled an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting.  As a former teacher I have sat in many meetings just like this one.  I have had the opportunity to listen to parents’ hearts and hear their dreams for their children.  I have had the privilege of sharing what their child is doing well and how he or she is growing and meeting and sometimes exceeding goals.  I also have had the difficult burden of explaining to parents the goals we set for their child might not be achievable.  Now, it was my turn to sit and share my desires for my child and to hear from the team if they thought he would benefit from their services.  As we walked through his neuropsychological results, I would be lying if I didn’t say my heart hurt for my son.  My heart was sad to think the reasons he had some of these issues were due to trauma in the womb.  But, I was also reminded God created this little man.  God already knew what he had to overcome.  It was my job to cheer and spur my child on to become the young man who would honor and please Him.  

In the meeting we did decide that he would, in fact, benefit from having an Individual Education Plan (IEP) .  This is the plan that will help my son succeed in school.  This plan, no doubt, will be changed many times in his life,  but it is this IEP that will equip him to conquer the world.  Will his goals be the same as other kids his age? Probably not, but that’s okay.  Will his goals be those that lead him towards a high paying job?  Probably not, but that’s okay.  His goals will be… his.

As you and I enter into the schools, it is OUR job to advocate for our children.  It is OUR job to be their voice.  It is OUR job to nudge and maybe gently shove others into seeing the child that is before them.  It is OUR job to respect and come alongside educators in order to ensure our children get what they need.  It will be heartbreaking.  It will be challenging.  It will be worth it.  Hang in there.  Our children are different, not less.

What are some things you, as a parent, can do…

  1. Educate yourself on the rights of your child if special services are necessary.
  2. Be realistic about your child’s behaviors- who they are at home and who they are in public?  How and when do these behaviors overlap?
  3. Trust that the school wants what is best for your child.  Remember, the more information that you provide,  the more successful your child can be at school.
  4. Be present at school and at home.  This reinforces that school is important.
  5. Include therapists in the dialogue. They have an outsider’s view.
  6. Include every person that’s in your circle of education– the entire school village.
  7. Record every success big and small.

The Quandary of Foster Care

You’re a foster parent, and you’re standing on the other side of that little half wall in the courtroom with your mouth agape in disbelief.  How did this happen?  How did so many adults with college degrees and positions of authority, people who should do what’s in the best interest of a child, do exactly the opposite?  It’s as if that wall separates sanity and logic from a circus where clowns juggle papers and misinformation.  The gavel slams, and the child you sacrificed, cried, and prayed for is returning home to a parent who has been an addict, in and out of jail, homeless, jobless, and/or abusive.  So, how did this happen?

How does this happen?  The previous scenario is one of many the masses play through their minds or read about online that perpetuate the struggling foster care systems across America.  Maybe you’re considering becoming a foster or adoptive parent and weighing whether you’re ready to commit or not.  Maybe you know someone who is struggling in their experience with the system, and you want to help but don’t know where to begin.  Or maybe you’re a judge or caseworker who just read the scenario above, and you’re already assuming I have no idea what I’m talking about because you’re not a clown.  You work hard under an insurmountable caseload doing the best you can with what you have.  Regardless of who you are or why you’re reading this, I want to walk you through how the foster care system works, the myths, and the realities associated with situations like the one above and ultimately encourage you to act.  While the foster care system may be broken, it will only remain broken if you and I allow it to stay that way.

The most foundational concept to understand about the foster care system is somewhat of a paradigm shift for us because the public is generally ignorant about what the system is dependent upon.  If the general public thinks about foster care at all, we tend to conceptually believe that somewhere neglected and abused children are being taken care of.  Visions of orphanages, children’s homes, and Annie come to mind.  But as early as the 1940’s, the foster care system has been replacing institutional settings.  Today, very few children’s homes still exist within America.  So, where are America’s more than 700,000 neglected and abused children?  In foster care.  And, where is foster care?  It’s in your home and my home.  The foster care system is dependent upon families opening their bedrooms to traumatized children in need of healing.  If there aren’t enough homes for the children from a given county or region, children must be placed in a home from another county or region.  There are emergency shelters and sleeping bags in child welfare offices along with other stop-gaps to help care for children when there aren’t enough homes immediately available, but research has shown children heal in a family setting where they can attach to a caregiver and learn how to cope while continuing to grow.  So, regardless of how many tax dollars are allocated for foster care programs if there are not a sufficient number of licensed foster families, foster care cannot function and children cannot heal in the best environment possible.

Now, just because foster home availability is foundational does not mean sufficient tax dollars from your federal, state, county, and city governments are not also a critical component of the foster care system.  Money, your and my tax dollars, is not only the fuel of the foster care system, it is also a factor in the quality of a given system.  It is not the only factor, but it is a major one.  The United States spends over $25 billion on foster care services each year.  These funds pay for a litany of salaries, services, and administrative costs that cannot be overstated.  For any given child,10 to 15 adults are paid for some service related to their case along with a myriad of other adults providing the infrastructure for the foster care system.  Costs begin with an intake hotline and an investigator who visits a child or family to determine if there is a valid case of neglect or abuse.   Along with this is all the necessary infrastructure to ensure intake, investigations, and removals are possible. Only about 40% of all allegations are confirmed.  Sometimes this is due to a lack of evidence.  Sometimes an investigator is unable to track down a family.  Without a sufficient number of investigators, foster care is halted.  No investigation, no removal.  Costs continue when a determination is made to provide services to a family or remove a child in the case of imminent danger.  The need for a caseworker and their supervisor, along with the aforementioned infrastructure to support the frontline workers, then increase costs, and it doesn’t take a vivid imagination to start adding it all up when we begin to include the courts, lawyers to represent the child and their parents, mental health services, and the plethora of other tangential contributors to the system.

Are you beginning to see a fuzzy image for how our introductory scenario becomes a reality?

Too little funding leads to a poor quality workforce and those who lack the necessary bandwidth to do the job sufficiently.  Investigations aren’t done in a timely manner, children aren’t seen frequently enough while in care, sufficient preventative and rehabilitative programs aren’t available to stem the influx of at-risk families and recidivism.  With too much funding, a welfare state begins to form where the public almost entirely insists on the government addressing all of the needs.  Both situations lead to egregious problems namely the problem of you and I doing nothing.  Too much taxation leads us to believe someone else is dealing with the needs of these children and families.  Too little taxation and there isn’t a sufficient framework or bandwidth of educated professionals organizing a system accountable to the best interests of children.

Another consideration is foster care is intended to be temporary with a priority given toward reunification with birth parents.  Many children in foster care come from single or unmarried parent, low income households, and many foster families come from two parent, moderate to high income households.  This is a generality, but the socio-economic dichotomy is real.  Expectations, lifestyles, language, and various other social norms are juxtaposed.  Therefore, when foster parents enter a courtroom for a hearing about a family’s case, they enter with a set of standards for what is appropriate and acceptable which doesn’t always align with the legal system, the political climate, or the funding issues which can lead to high rates of caseworker turnover and low quality work.  A foster parent typically expects the best while the legal system is limited to what is lawful.

The last point I’ll make is the foster care system and every system involves human beings.  Errant, sinful, selfish, well-intended, occasionally misinformed human beings.  I don’t say this or any of this in a search for the sufficient excuse to remedy the issues that plague the potential success of foster care, but I say this to improve your perspective and charge you to act.  It is easy to to look at how insurmountable the problems in foster care are, believe you have no control, throw up your hands, and refuse to do anything more than complain and rage against the machine on your social media platforms.  But, the foster care system also involves Spirit-filled, well-informed, educated, thoughtful, and yet still sinful human beings who are standing in the gap refusing to quit.

I am never more encouraged than when the above scenario plays out in any of its varieties, and a foster parent or advocate, even one who takes to the blogosphere to inappropriately vent their frustration, lowers their head, pledges to persevere, and affirms these fundamental truths.  First, no parent woke up one morning and chose to abuse or neglect their child.  Parents are still accountable, but pitting them against their child as the enemy is not a productive solution.  Second, caseworkers, lawyers, and judges, even bad ones, don’t work to hurt children or families.  They come to wrong conclusions sometimes that you or I may disagree with, but they also come to right conclusions that you or I may disagree with.  Third, you and I are capable of making an impact.  Our impact is entirely dependent upon our willingness to stand firm and resilient while surrounding ourselves with those who will speak truth to us and encourage us to care for ourselves so we can maintain the capacity to care for others.

One parent’s response to an incredibly trying situation from years ago summarizes my thoughts and admonition to you.  The father said, “I do not know how else to help him. I have tried everything I can think of and exhausted my heart and mind on his behalf.  I cannot fathom why the system has failed him and us in the way that it has.  I do not know what else to do.  But, I do know God has placed him in my family, and if I have nothing else to give him, I will hold firm in this.  He has a family who will not give up on him.”

Foster, adopt, advocate, mentor, and support.  You are not alone.  Join us in reclaiming the care of these children and families.