The narrative around foster care in Texas usually centers on overloaded caseworkers, 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 Texas children in foster care.
This Opinion piece originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.
Upbring, the largest nonprofit foster placement and adoption agency in Texas, believes that as members of a caring community, we all share responsibility for helping to raise healthy children prepared to embrace successful lives.
In San Antonio, there are some wonderful stories of families stepping in to fill a great need. For instance, there are the contributions of David and Teresa Ebert. Licensed foster parents since 2000, Teresa is a registered nurse who has a big heart for foster children with primary medical needs — vulnerable children who require extra care and attention due to terminal illnesses. The Eberts have fostered more than 30 children over the past 15 years.
One of their many special stories is about a little girl named Angelina, who they adopted. Not expected to live, she was referred for hospice care services. Yet, miraculously, Angelina was released from hospice care four years ago and has been receiving 24-hour nursing care since.
We are privileged to work with many families throughout Texas like the Eberts. If we intend to fundamentally improve the foster care system, we need more families like theirs, as well as greater participation from every sector of our community.
Our mission is to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities. With more than 13 percent of U.S. children subject to abuse or neglect by a caregiver each year, maltreatment of children is a pervasive problem affecting kids of every age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background. Upbring recognizes the importance of improving the well-being of and long-term prospects for children, youth and families across our state.
We know that 30 percent of people who were abused as children become abusers; 66,572 Texas children were confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect last year, most for the first time. Also in the Lone Star State in 2014, more than 17,000 children were removed from their homes; additionally, as the result of a recent study, we now know that over their lifetimes, this abuse and neglect costs the Texas economy an estimated $454 billion.
If we intend 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 has established an innovative continuum of services and partnerships tracking progress across five key markers: safety, life skills, education, health and vocation.
Currently, there is surprisingly little long-term data on Texas foster children or what strategies prove successful in serving them. 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, we will be better positioned to more consistently care for and meet foster children’s varied needs — and we’ll be better prepared to help these children as they age out of foster care.
Kurt Senske is president & CEO of Upbring, the new Lutheran Social Services of the South, a faith-based nonprofit organization devoted to breaking the cycle of child abuse.