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June 16th

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Op-Ed: How You Can Help Texas' Foster Kids - Upbring

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Breaking the cycle of child abuse requires effort from each of us, non-profit’s leader says.

This Opinion piece originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

The narrative around foster care in Texas usually centers on overloaded case workers, traumatized children, and a flawed, underfunded state system. However, few of us look in the mirror and wonder what we ourselves can do to improve the lives of children in the Texas foster care system.

I challenge you to think and act differently, starting now.

Upbring, the largest non-profit foster placement and adoption agency in Texas, believes that as members of a caring community, we all share responsibility in helping to raise healthy children prepared to embrace successful lives.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, Chandra Wilson provides an excellent example. Since 2007, Chandra has served as a foster mother in Fort Worth to 17 children and has successfully guided five to college. She takes in some of Dallas’ highest-risk girls, some of whom are dealing with a traumatic past. Chandra’s desire is to continue ensuring that these children — who have endured great pain and suffering — have a strong foundation to stand on the minute they enter her home.

Chandra helps these young people find their own identity through healing. An important part of that process is empowering them to give back to other children who are now where they used to be. Every one of Chandra’s girls who has left her home remains in contact with her today. It is a powerful bond. They are a family.

We are privileged to work with numerous families throughout Texas like Chandra’s. If we intend to fundamentally improve the foster care system, we need more families like hers, as well as greater participation from every sector of our community.

Upbring’s mission is to break the cycle of child abuse and, though it’s an ambitious one, we believe it’s where Texas needs to focus its aim. Here’s why: We know that 30 percent of people who were abused as children become abusers themselves; nearly 70,000 Texas children were confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect last year, most for the first time; last year alone, nearly 18,000 Texas children were removed from their homes; additionally, as the result of a new study, we now know that over their lifetimes, this abuse and neglect costs the Texas economy an estimated $454 billion.

If we hope to break the cycle of child abuse, we must be comprehensive in our strategy. Kids enter the child welfare system at different stages of their lives and we must address the full spectrum of their needs. To do so, Upbring is creating an innovative continuum of services and partnerships geared toward five key areas in a child’s progress into adulthood: safety, life skills, education, health and vocation.

There is surprisingly little long-term data on Texas foster children, however, or what strategies prove successful in serving them.

In order to fill this void, Upbring is partnering with the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work on a first-of-its-kind-in-Texas study that will track the progress and well-being of foster children. With comprehensive data in hand, we will be better positioned to more consistently care for and meet foster children’s varied needs.

We recognize that we can’t meet those needs alone. Giving vulnerable kids the support and opportunities each of them deserves is more than one organization or government can do. We’re turning to you for help.

Here’s how you can help:

  • We need businesses willing to train and employ 18-year-olds as they exit the foster care system.
  • We need medical institutions eager to partner with us to improve the health of children in foster care.
  • We need legislators prepared to support the needs of foster children in a complex system.
  • We need volunteers who are passionate about lending their time and skills to a cause bigger than themselves.

And of course, we need more Texans like Chandra Wilson, whose love and devotion as a foster mother has raised expectations for what a childhood can be.

Dr. Kurt Senske is president & CEO of Upbring, formerly Lutheran Social Services of the South, a faith-based nonprofit organization devoted to breaking the cycle of child abuse. To learn more, participate, volunteer, or contribute, go to www.upbring.org or email the group at [email protected]

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