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Texas families must act to help foster children

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By Kurt Senske, special to TribTalk.

We have all heard the tragic stories of our children who’ve been failed by the system. They sadden and anger us; it breaks our hearts. But instead of pointing fingers, let’s take meaningful action now to produce better outcomes for those most in need.

When Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Henry “Hank” Whitman recently issued his 10-point plan to reform Child Protective Services, it became immediately clear that his perspective is one we need in order to solve these big challenges.

Through his selection of Commissioner Whitman for this post, Gov. Greg Abbott is further illustrating his commitment to CPS reform for the benefit of Texas children, families and communities. Reform is warranted, and the need is great. Last year in Texas, there were 66,721 confirmed unduplicated victims of child abuse and 17,151 children removed from their homes. This is a burden we all share — we cannot expect government to bear it alone.

Whitman’s plans include aggressive measures to enhance special investigators’ training, strengthen accountability and build more relationships with faith-based groups. We applaud these initial steps to build on agency transformation efforts already underway, and are optimistic that the Legislature will act to bolster Whitman’s commitment to improving outcomes for at-risk children across Texas.

The role of powerful data to inform agency and legislative reform efforts is one area where the private sector can help. Upbring is partnering with the University of Texas School of Social Work on a study — the first of its kind in Texas — that will track the progress and well-being of children in foster care. With comprehensive data in hand, we will be better positioned to more consistently care for and meet the varied needs of children who had to be removed from their homes.

But the data tells only a part of the story. As the largest nonprofit foster care placement and adoption agency in Texas, we know firsthand that foster family recruitment is one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest, when it comes to serving abused and neglected children. The foster system is built on private citizens willing to take in children who are not safe in their own homes. We need more to do so.

A shining example of this commitment to action is Chandra Wilson of Dallas. Since 2007, Chandra has served as a foster mom to nearly 20 children, guiding five of them to college. She continues to serve as a source of healing and strength to children with nowhere else to turn. Her actions inspire us, but we, as a community need to turn inspiration into action.

The reason children are sleeping in state offices is a lack of private homes ready to take them in. As the Austin American-Statesman reported last month, between December 2014 and April 2016, 186 Texas children slept in offices for at least two nights. CPS caseworkers have been forced to turn visitation rooms at their offices into makeshift bedrooms. And a spate of residential treatment center closures this year has only further exacerbated the problem.

As a civilized, compassionate society, the welfare of our children is something for which we are all accountable. The faith-based community, of which we are a part, has a role to play, too. Organizations like Upbring work diligently to recruit, screen, train, and empower good people to become verified foster parents. We are offering Texas families a way to help.

To find out how you can volunteer, fundraise, or donate your time or resources — which will help provide more services and better care for our children who need love, encouragement, and guidance from compassionate adults — contact a nonprofit in your area that provides foster care services.

We salute the excellent foster families throughout Texas that have already answered the call. And we ask for others who are on the sidelines to please get involved so we can help turn things around for children across this state who are the most susceptible to harm. Texans, our children need us — and we have a duty to care for them.

Join us in this mission to save and improve the lives of those who need us most. They are counting on all of us.

Dr. Kurt Senske is CEO of Upbring, a faith-based nonprofit organization devoted to breaking the cycle of child abuse. Join us. Please visit Upbring.org or email [email protected] to learn more.

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