Texas’ Foster Care Redesign program hit a snag on August 9 when the state Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) announced that it would not award a contract to a private contractor that had previously been selected to coordinate and manage foster care services in the Corpus Christi area.
State lawmakers had hoped that by using private contractors to coordinate foster care services the state could stretch the dollars of an already under funded child welfare program that is supposed to protect abused and neglected children.
Corpus Christi was to be the site of one of two Foster Care Redesign pilot programs.
But the Austin American Statesman reported that the social services company that was supposed to coordinate care in Corpus has a spotty record of providing care at foster homes that it currently manages.
Myko Gedutis, Texas State Employees Union lead organizer for DFPS and Southeast Texas, says that the state’s Foster Care Redesign program doesn’t address a key problem–Texas doesn’t invest enough money in helping abused and neglected children.
“I think the cancellation of the contract proves that we were right about privatization and redesign” Gedutis said. “A private agency can’t provide the same level of services–much less improve them–with the same pitiful amount of state funding.”
According to the Statesman, Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSSS), the private contractor that DFPS had originally chosen to implement Foster Care Redesign in Corpus, lost its contract because of problems with its operations in other Texas cities.
DFPS found that foster care homes managed by LSSS in Laredo, Garland, and Richardson used prohibited punishments such as pinching, hair pulling, and shaking, used food as punishment and reward, humiliated children, and failed to keep safe and clean homes.
Of even greater concern, a three-year old child left unsupervised drowned at one of the foster care homes managed by LSSS in Laredo.
In the past, DFPS has cited LSSS for other problems. In 2008, DFPS temporarily stopped referring children to LSSS in Lubbock because the company failed to show that it was conducting adequate background checks of people with whom it contracted to provide foster care.
DFPS’ Child Protective Services (CPS) has suffered from a long history of under funding that has made it difficult to serve some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
The state has been sued by Children’s Rights, a national child welfare advocacy group, which alleges that,
Texas overburdens its (CPS) caseworkers with excessive caseloads and lacks enough placement options to ensure children live in appropriate settings. . . . The state fails to monitor kids’ safety, putting them in understaffed group homes and unlicensed homes of relatives who are not given the same training or support as foster parents.
But the Legislature in 2011 eliminated 209 CPS positions and funded the foster care program at 10 percent less than the agency estimated it needed to keep up with an ever-expanding caseload.
The Legislature hoped that Foster Care Redesign, which was proposed in 2010 by a private/public partnership group that included LSSS, would help CPS stretch its budget and improve services.
Foster Care Redesign changes the way foster care services are paid for and relies on private contractors in specific regions to coordinate services and manage the way state dollars are spent.
But Gedutis says that given the magnitude of foster care problems and the limited resources that the state allots to them, it’s difficult to see how private contractors can have much of an impact on improving services.
“Adding a level of administration to the foster care system only siphons off more resources,” he said. “The focus needs to be on improving services and keeping kids close to their communities. This can be done without privatization, but legislators would rather try to let the market figure it out instead of the agency or the state doing the heavy lifting to get better outcomes.”