Child welfare providers want to see children and youth safe and stable in a family setting and prioritize serving children in the least restrictive setting possible. Public policy and state protocol, along with state law, prioritizes keeping families together and reuniting families more than any other outcome. And the Texas Alliance for Child and Family Services (the largest and primary alliance of Texas child welfare service providers) and other leading agencies have recently published recommendations that center kinship care as the first and next best thing to care from a child’s biological parents. Services that prevent a family’s separation and ones that preserve kinship and adoption placements are much needed as our state legislature and provider community reach for solutions to Texas’ constant capacity troubles.
Chosen CEO Jenni Lord and Arms Wide Adoption Services CEO DeJuana Jernigan are colleagues and friends leading two of Texas’ few and largest prevention and family preservation agencies. Both Chose n and Arms Wide are contracted to provide a wide array of permanency support services to kinship, foster, and adoptive families.
Both Jenni and DeJuana have a deep understanding of the struggles families face as they try to both stay together and thrive.
“Many people think that when adoption happens everything is happily ever after. We know that in foster care adoption, that’s not always the case,” DeJuana said.
“Our system of care is designed around physical safety. It’s a welfare system and a system of last resort. We’ve got to shift into a system focused on wellbeing,” Jenni said.
What’s the problem?
There is a dire need for these important services, expanded funding, and reduced friction for service providers to do the work.
In fact, Arms Wide Adoption Services fundraises about 25% of their operating budget while serving about 350 families per year.
What’s more, many kinship and adoptive families (the furthest away from our oversight-rich foster care system) do not even know the services exist.
Jenni predicts system challenges far into the future if families continue to lack these services.
“Statistically, with the surge of kinship providers we have, what kind of fallout are we going to see as those children age? They aren’t getting the right level of support.”
DeJuana says that when a family begins their exit from the system (either through a stable and prolonged kinship placement, consummated adoption, or even a sustained reunification), that’s where the trouble typically begins. And that is where a gap in services are most profound.
“When they come to us, that’s when we learn they’ve become severely dysfunctional. Unfortunately, they learn about post-adoption support when they are already calling CPS and want to dissolve the adoption,” she said.
Most child welfare funding goes toward the day-to-day needs of youth actively in care but both DeJuana and Jenni are concerned about the consequences of not funding kinship and post-adoption and post-permanency services.
What’s more, post-permanency programming is currently only available in CBC Regions 6 and 11.
The Vital Need for this Care
DeJuana and Jenni’s combined four decades of experience in child welfare has proven that their chief goal is to help facilitate the healing that will prevent a child from entering or re-entering foster care.
When an aunt or uncle, grandparent, adult sibling, or other loved one says ‘yes’ to caring for a child who has experienced abuse or neglect, they may not fully understand the effects of saying ‘yes’. So many system-involved children and youth face psychiatric, emotional, and mental health issues that even a family member may not be aware of or equipped to help treat.
In her experience, Jenni has seen two major challenges a caregiver will likely immediately face. The first is that the biological parent(s) are often still in the picture. Whether in recovery, incarcerated, or attempting to meet a court’s requirements, a biological parent’s involvement and relationship with the caregiver can cause further confusion and disruption to the work of stabilizing and healing.
“Oftentimes, they have no one. They feel lonely, exhausted, and isolated,” said Jenni. Kinship caregivers don’t always have the support system that would offset some of the major challenges they face.
The same can be said of adoptive parents. DeJuana says she’s seen divorce, relationship breakdown, and dissolution because of a lack of support.
Arms Wide, one of only three community organizations in the state contracted to provide post-adoption services, provides case management, including 24-hour crisis support for these families. They also provide respite care, therapeutic care, support in the event of a residential treatment need, and they even some concrete services such as mattresses, and utility bill payment. Arms Wide is also the only organization that provides Post-Permanency Services to kinship caregivers who agree to long-term Permanent Managing Conservatorship of their kin (relative) children who were in foster care. These services are almost identical to the Post-Adoption support services. They see limited financial support for concrete services to these families.
“We want to strengthen and preserve that family.”
DeJuana says they’ve been working closely with the state, particularly over the past year, to create a way for providers of post-adoption services to receive contact information for recently adopting families. While a confidentiality issue had previously barred them from doing so previously, a new procedure will allow families to connect with Arms Wide and other providers after adoption.
Both Jenni and DeJuana want to see caregivers, kids, and families stable.
“We may be working with them every day for three weeks. They’re just managing having their world turned upside down… The laws can change, we can change definitions, we can change even what kinship means, but you still have to ensure that kids who have mental and behavioral health needs have access to those resources,” Jenni said.
In their long careers, they’ve seen many of the issues remain the same over the years. While the provider community prefers to see kids and youth in stable and familial settings, it seems to come at great expense to kinship and adoptive caregivers. And the youth who might have been in foster care if not for a kin caregiver, still need the same resources and support.
Providers like DeJuana and Jenni agree with the direction of the Legislature, to focus resources on strengthening and sustaining families, by empowering and equipping them to stay safe together. This family-focused approach to programs works to ensure the wellbeing of the whole family, rather than solely prioritize immediate physical safety.
Learn more about the TACFS policy priority around Family-Focused Programs.