Child’s Choice is a pilot program within the Texas foster care system that gives kids a say in picking their foster homes. Successfully implemented in other states, Child’s Choice is the wave of the future for foster care in Texas. Melody McDonald, a reporter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently filed this in-depth story about Child’s Choice at the Nelson Center.
Here is an outline of how Child’s Choice works:
Kids end up in the foster care system for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect by the biological parent is far too often the reason. The trauma a child faces at home in an abusive situation is often compounded when they’re removed from the home and placed into foster care. It’s an unsettling time in an already unsettled life. Depending on the severity of the trauma, some kids will act out to the point where their foster families are unable to control them.
Typically, those kids are sent to a residential treatment center (RTC) like the three operated in Texas by Lutheran Social Services of the South: The Nelson Children’s Center in Denton; the Krause Children’s Center in Katy; and the New Life Children’s Center for girls in Canyon Lake. Once a child successfully completes a program at an RTC through hard work and achieving certain goals, the child is ready to go back to a foster family. Historically, that child won’t meet their new foster family until the day they are discharged from the RTC. This can lead to a new traumatic situation that erases all the progress and hard work made by the child at the RTC. The Child’s Choice program aims to address this problem directly.
Child’s Choice pairs potential foster families with a child preparing to successfully exit an RTC program. During a 6-8 week period before being discharged, the child and the prospective foster family will have the opportunity to get to know each other. Based on that experience, the child, often for the first time, is empowered with the opportunity to decide if that family is the right one for him or her. This process is believed to help alleviate the anxiety and potential for further trauma in that child’s life.
Initially, the child fills out a simple questionnaire with some ideas about the kind of family that child might like, what they like to do, what their interests are. Caseworkers go to work matching a prospective family with that child. A participating foster parent typically visits the RTC to meet and get to know the child. They may go out on excursions together, or the child may sleep over at the house on a weekend. Potential foster parents may attend therapy sessions with the child. If all goes well and the child chooses to be fostered by that family, then they have a sense of where they are going and what to expect. If, for whatever reason, a child feels uncomfortable with a prospective foster family, they can say “no” and caseworkers will then screen another prospective family.
The Nelson Center in Denton is one of the first RTCs in Texas to implement Child’s Choice; two children are already placed with families and more are pending. New Life Children’s Center in Canyon Lake is also in the process of implementing Child’s Choice.