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Austin-American Statesman Article Highlighting Foster Village...

50 Texas foster children slept in state offices, hotels in April

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Posted: 12:00 a.m. Sunday, May 27, 2018

 

Insufficient foster homes have led to children sleeping in CPS offices and other temporary living situations.

Texas children sleeping in state offices and other temporary living situations continue to plague the state’s child welfare agency as the number of specialized foster care homes diminishes.

The number of children who were forced to sleep in Child Protective Services offices, hotels and shelters for at least two consecutive nights as they awaited foster placement climbed to 50 over the course of April, according to new data by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

The problem continues even as Gov. Greg Abbott’s office has directed more than $500,000 to expand foster bed capacity statewide while the state agency has entered into almost two dozen agreements with community partners to offer temporary beds.

Even though the number of children sleeping in offices has declined since last year, the goal is to have no children in such arrangements, and anything short of that has been disappointing for officials.

“Along with a foster child’s safety, there is nothing as important in foster care as the best, most appropriate placement tailored for that specific child,” said Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the agency. “We literally work on it around the clock, seven days a week.”

Fewer beds for foster children

Between September and April, 196 children statewide were forced to sleep in offices, hotels and shelters as they awaited foster homes, compared with 384 children during the same period last year.

Abbott has spoken with Hank Whitman, commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, to identify the reason for the spike in April and what more can be done to resolve it, Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said. But she said the governor is also pleased with the “substantial improvements DFPS has made.”

Foster children without placements continue to be a problem for the state because more children are being removed from abusive homes without enough foster beds for them, according to the agency. The problem worsened after Hurricane Harvey, which shuttered two residential treatment centers that typically house foster care children with health and behavioral needs. Twenty-nine beds were lost, and since then the state has lost 106 beds at two other centers that relinquished their licenses for reasons unrelated to the storm.

Part of the challenge of finding enough foster beds is that agency officials don’t choose homes for children, Crimmins said. Foster providers can be resistant to taking in teens, runaways and sibling groups, and in some cases, judges might require a specific placement for a child that isn’t immediately available.

To curb the number of children sleeping in state offices, the governor’s office provided funding in June 2017 for a program that prohibits participating foster care providers from rejecting children. Each of the 22 beds in the program, in Houston, Abilene, San Antonio and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, cost the state $400 per night, and they are nearly 95 percent full.

“Most people believe that CPS can pick and choose placements among our foster care providers, but in reality the providers select the child they want to care for, and in many cases they decline to select a child we are trying to place,” Crimmins said.

Community partners

Along with the governor’s program, the child welfare agency has entered into 20 agreements with nonprofits and churches to provide temporary beds.

Foster Village in Dripping Springs is the first in Central Texas to launch such an initiative at no cost to the state, and the nonprofit has a bedroom that can sleep as many as five children up to age 18 for as long as 48 hours.

“The facility is phenomenal. It brings a much more calming and homelike setting instead of the drab walls of an office,” said Lindsey Van Buskurk, the CPS deputy director for Central Texas. “As much as we have tried to make the office kid friendly, it’s still an office building. There’s no way around it.”

Eleven children in Central Texas slept in state offices and temporary living situations between February and April.

The bedroom in Foster Village stands in stark contrast to the living conditions of a CPS office building. Instead of linoleum floors, drop ceilings and fluorescent lights, the room has wood floors, fluffy pillows and blankets, and it is flooded with sunlight from a window that overlooks trees and fields. The 2,000-square-foot home opened in November with a full kitchen, a play room with toys and books, rooms full of clothing and supplies, and space for caseworkers who must supervise the foster children at all times.

READ: Pay raises, hiring initiatives usher in Texas CPS improvements

Chrystal Smith and Ellen Evans, former foster parents, started the nonprofit in 2016 with the goal of providing donations and services for foster parents, but after hearing about children sleeping in offices, they were quick to lease a space that could include a bedroom for children without placements. The nonprofit finalized its agreement with the state agency this month.

“It’s just adding additional layers of trauma on an already traumatic situation,” Smith said of housing foster children in state offices. “It’s not ideal for the kids; it’s not ideal for the caseworkers. It doesn’t feel dignified.”

Smith, who has a degree in child development and has taught court-mandated parenting classes, said hotels might be a better alternative to state offices but can be traumatic to foster children who have been trafficked.

Although Foster Village doesn’t have to meet the same rigorous requirements of a foster home, it must have insurance coverage for injuries, allow CPS to regularly inspect for hazards, and conduct background checks on staffers and volunteers who will come in contact with children in the state’s custody.

The nonprofit, which operates on a $200,000 annual budget and relies heavily on community volunteers, hopes to replicate its model in Waco and North Carolina.

But Smith and Evans recognize that their temporary living situation is no replacement for a more permanent home for foster children, especially among their relatives or eventually with their birth parents.

“Our hope is that by providing a way for the community to get involved and becoming that bridge between fostering and the community, we are recruiting more foster families at the same time,” Evans said.

Ribbon Cutting and Open House

Our village of volunteers and generous community members have been busy creating the most inviting and welcoming space for the children who visit our Oak Haven resource center in Dripping Springs! We want every child who walks through our doors to feel dignified and valued. 

We would love for you to join us and take a tour of this innovative new facility that the community has created!

Please RSVP at the event link on our Facebook page Here!

 

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Oh What a Night!

On February 8th, we were joined by 140 wonderful Foster Village supporters for our inaugural 'Gala With a Twist'. The event was hosted at High 5 in Lakeway and our theme was Black-Tie Bowling. We managed to merge the importance of sharing our mission while incorporating a child-like twist on the traditional gala.
Thanks to the generosity of the guests, sponsors, silent auction donors, volunteers, and cheerleaders who faithfully rallied this village of support for our most vulnerable neighbors, we raised over $30,000!
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Special guests and Foster Village Founding Partners included NFL player Phil Dawson and former NFL player and UT coach, Michael Huff. Phil's wife, Shannon, shared her story as an adoptee and child welfare advocate in a moving call-to-action speech during dinner.

Nick and Chrystal Smith, Foster Village founders, shared highlights and stories of some of the 700+ children that Foster Village supported in 2017 as well as the organization's goals moving forward.

We also had an impactful on-the-spot testimonial shared by an inspiring foster mom of 7 children who has been personally supported by the work of Foster Village.

Some of our sponsors pledged an additional $100 per strike bowled by our guests and $50 per gutter ball (ha!), which kept things fun and competitive! The 'black-tie optional' theme also added lots of smiles to the evening since it's not everyday that we get to dress in tuxedos and act like kids while supporting an important cause :)

We are so grateful for our community partners and guests for making this event a success and we are already looking forward to doing it again next year!

Sponsors included Novl, Austin Ridge Bible Church, Solutions Pharmacy, Stone House Ranch, Superior Health Plan, Andrea Parker with Keller Williams, Moody Orthodontics, Smith Wealth Management Group TX, and Putonti Law Firm. In addition, there were many local silent auction donors including: Wanderin' Star Farms, Treaty Oak, Liney Moon, Your Biker Gang, Todd Whipple, Verdes, Zip Lost Pine, Stanley's Farmhouse Pizza, Vintage Soul, Walt Smith for County Commissioner, LockTite Storage, Carol Mogen, Cat Miller, the Piazza Center, Hat Creek Burger, Urban Mattress, Waller Creek Pub, Yonder Way Farm, Jessica Putonti, Fairmont Hotel, Fixe Austin, Kendra Scott, and High Five Events Center. 

Thank you to everyone who joined us!! 

Exciting News!

We are beyond thrilled to announce that God has provided a new 'home base' for Foster Village that will allow us to keep up with the 500+ requests that we are working to meet annually for children in crisis. This property in Dripping Springs will be used as a first-of-it’s-kind resource center for children in foster care and their families. A haven where the community can serve and wrap around its most vulnerable citizens in a meaningful way.

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When children come into foster care with just the clothes on their backs, foster parents and kinship caregivers will be able to bring them here to pick out all of the items they need in a dignified way (clothes, beds, car seats, toys, etc). We are also working with CPS to make it a place where children in foster care can have visitations with their parents and/or siblings in a more home-like environment and an alternative option for the local children who currently need to spend hours in the car each week to get to the nearest visitation location. A neutral environment where they can cook a meal together, climb trees, practice life skills, and have mentors equip them with helpful tools that will give these children and families a better chance of beating the overwhelming odds stacked against them. It will also serve as an occasional safe haven for a child to stay overnight with his/her caseworker while waiting for the right foster home, rather than children sleeping in a CPS office.

Child welfare stakeholders from around the U.S. are already taking notes on how this Foster Village model could improve some of the ways we care for children entering foster care. This groundbreaking alternative will take an 'all hands on deck' approach to be successful- we would love your support to make this possible! We will be sharing more volunteer opportunities, updates, and news about our upcoming Black Tie Bowling fundraiser. Your time and contributions, however big or small, have gotten us this far and we are grateful to have each of you on this exciting journey with us. 

Help For Children Displaced by Hurricane Harvey

In the days following the devastation that our state experienced due to the massive Hurricane Harvey, we put out a simple call to action to help our neighbors. What started as a simple Amazon wish list of basic necessities for these children and families, turned into a mountain of generosity from around the world. Thousands of items were purchased from that wish list. Truckload after truckload of beds, car seats, socks, gift cards, underpants, diapers, and other resources poured in with thoughtful notes of encouragement from near and far, including Qatar, Italy, and Denmark!

We had the privilege of delivering these desperately needed items to DFPS offices and directly to several foster and kinship families who lost everything.  Dozens of volunteers stepped up to help us sort, haul, and distribute. 

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 These unsung UPS heroes made sure every package got to us as quickly as possible, even renting a moving truck to bring a couple of the loads. This is just one of those deliveries!

These unsung UPS heroes made sure every package got to us as quickly as possible, even renting a moving truck to bring a couple of the loads. This is just one of those deliveries!

 And the high-quality children's clothing line, Tea Collection, donated 26 large boxes of their brand new clothes toward our efforts. Children who lost everything will now have wonderful, long lasting clothes thanks to this awesome business who stepped up to give back to the community. 

And the high-quality children's clothing line, Tea Collection, donated 26 large boxes of their brand new clothes toward our efforts. Children who lost everything will now have wonderful, long lasting clothes thanks to this awesome business who stepped up to give back to the community. 

We have been so moved and encouraged by what this community was able to accomplish in such a short time. It gives us tremendous hope for our children in crisis knowing that there is a village standing by, ready to fill the needs!

Thank you again to everyone who contributed donations and their time toward this effort!

If you are a foster family who was impacted by the hurricane and you are in need of basic necessities, please contact us at info@fostervillageaustin.org

Foster Parent's Night Out!

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Foster parents, we know how hard it can be to secure approved childcare for your little ones. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Austin Ridge Bible Church in Southwest Austin to provide free childcare opportunities throughout the year. 

Our next Foster Parent's Night Out is scheduled for September 16th from 5pm-8pm. Space will be limited, so be sure to sign up early! Dinner and activities will be provided for all of the kiddos. 

VOLUNTEERS, we would love for you to join us for this event! There is a link to sign-up for you as well. Background checks will be required. 

 

Please email us at info@fostervillageaustin.org with any questions!

Wise Words from one of our seasoned foster mamas...

One of the sweet foster families who we have had the privilege of walking alongside shared these thoughts with us to pass along to new foster families stepping into the uncertain world of foster care. Simple and important thoughts to keep in mind based on this family's experience while fostering. We can all learn something from those who walked before us.

 

'What I wish I knew before fostering…..

 

When my husband and I felt God calling us to adopt or foster, we were really excited. A new child! We were excited to be a part of God’s plan. Fast forward to day two of our emergency placement. Okay, the first 5 hours. “Next time God calls, don’t answer.” Really. We knew going into it that it would be hard, but we didn't know it would be THIS HARD. I mean, we'd had training, home visits, medical tests, fingerprints—we couldn't be more prepared, could we? Actually, no.  And yes. People prepare for their first child, and then discover there's a lot you can't prepare for—just like fostering.  Some of it is truly on the job training. Below is my “wish I would’ve known” list.

 

  • Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help. The foster agency, CASA, child’s attorney, and CPS are all available to help along the journey. ASK.

 

  • You handle what you can handle. The agency will ask if you can handle a lot of different types of children. Be honest. It's not a popularity contest—tell them what you can really handle. Of course they'd love for you to take on 5 kids with special needs, but if you can help one child in “basic care”--that's one child who is safe. God doesn’t need you to save all the children, he needs you to help with the child or children He's chosen for YOU.

 

  • Document Everything. Use the “notes” app for ease.

 

  • God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called. I’m borrowing that line from our pastor (thanks Brad!), bears repeating.  Daily.

 

  • Therapy is vital for your foster child. It not only makes a difference for them—it helps your bio family. If your child receives Medicaid, the foster parent is allowed to see the child's therapist under that insurance. This can be a life changing resource to learn more about your child, and help your family.

 

  • Strong marriage required. CAUTION. Challenges ahead.

 

  • Foster your bio family. Whatever you give to your family won't be enough. Ouch. Sorry, but it won't. And no matter how many times you tell your bio kids you love them and you're working hard to make things better, it’s still hard.

 

  • Smell test? You know how your mom could smell the truth? So can you! If someone tells you something that isn't right—question it. (Yes, you're allowed to question authority.)

 

  • Give yourself a break. This is hard. Really hard.

 

  • God chose you for this ministry for a reason. Whether you foster one child, help with respite care or foster many children. HE has the plan.'

Thank you for these wise words, Kimberly!

 

Parent's Night Out!

Calling all foster parents!

We know how hard it can be to arrange childcare when it comes to the process involved in getting approved babysitters for kids in foster care. So we've partnered with Austin Ridge Bible Church Southwest to give you a night off on April 29th. Space is limited so reserve your spots now. Siblings are welcome to join us!

Fiesta Fundraiser Success!

Last weekend we were humbled and encouraged to have over 100 guests gather to show their support for Foster Village and the families we aim to serve. We enjoyed a Fiesta-Valentine theme with Verde's Mexican Parrilla taco bar, mariachi by Mariachi Amor, a fun photo booth and cupcake bar by Cupcake Social, and several amazing raffle baskets full of awesome prizes donated by local businesses and artisans.

We were able to hear a first-hand experience from a local foster family who Foster Village has had the privilege of wrapping around, as well hear from another former foster family who struggled without the kind of community support we work toward creating. Several foster parents were able to join us through donated tickets by the community (thank you!) and we saw a beautiful mingling of foster parents and compassionate community members with a desire to do their part in being the change needed in our current foster system crisis.

Our goal for the evening was to raise awareness and hopefully raise needed funds for our Welcome Pack and Project SOOTHe programs. We were blown away by the generosity and willingness to fill the gaps for these children and families. Over $10,000 was raised that night, including a year of monthly commitments that many folks stepped up for! We are so excited to put these funds to work for our local children and families in the trenches of foster care.

So far this year, we are receiving at least 5-10 requests weekly for basic necessities for children entering foster care. We are also seeing an increase in awareness and requests for therapeutic items like weighted blankets and infant carriers. It will take a village of resources to meet all of these needs and we are extraordinarily grateful to all of you willing to join us in this effort!

Lastly, this is a bit of Dena Dupuie's story that she shared with us at the event. She and her husband own Hope Realty Texas and are so passionate about our mission that they generously stepped up to sponsor the evening. They've also offered to donate 10% of their commission on homes sold through Foster Village referrals, so keep them in mind if you're in need of realtors with a heart in the Austin area. We are so grateful for their partnership and commitment to our cause...

Our foster journey began in 2008 when our now adopted daughter, Brianna, arrived on our doorstep at the tender age of 14 months. Brianna had suffered a traumatic brain injury from being violently shaken. Little did we know that our future path would be to take in special needs children. While being a foster parent is very rewarding it is also complicated and difficult. One year we took in an emergency placement for a 12 month old who had Reactive Attachment Disorder, a heartbreaking and challenging condition that is especially challenging as a caretaker. He arrived with nothing in his possession. No clothes, food, or toys. We only had a 1 hour notice that he was coming. It was a chaotic transition and it took at least a week for us to get the essentials. We would have been so blessed to have Foster Village on our team back then.
If we had had Foster Village to wrap their arms around us and provide therapeutic support we would have been better equipped to help our special needs foster child. The services Foster Village provides are essential and they are a total blessing to those who care for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
— Dena Dupuie

Photo Credit: Cesar E. Lopez Linares (University of Texas Journalism)

This event would not have been possible without the help and generosity of so many. Here are some of the awesome local businesses and individuals who made our event such a success:

Wanderin' Star Farms, The Piazza Center, Epicure, Locomotion Inflatable Play, Dripping Springs Chocolate Company, Blushing Belle Beauty Bar, Private Chef Crystal Reinwald, Austin Dental Care, Hope Realty Texas, LockTite Storage, Avrey Grace Boutique, Austin Apothecary, Farrar Lindler, Cupcake Social Events, Mariachi Amore, Verdes Mexican Parilla, Barrett & Richelle Criswell, Level 2 Promotions, Trey Powers, The Violet Room Austin, Austin Wood & Metal, Art by Meena Motocha, Megan Wilky, Happy Home Austin, and The House of Austin. 

If you were not able to make it to the event but you have a desire to join our mission to bring support and resources to our local children and families in the child welfare system, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us at info@fostervillageaustin.org for information on our monthly partnership program.