Texas has been methodically changing the way we serve children and youth in the foster care system in recent years, and due to legislative action taken this spring, those changes are soon coming to the Dallas area. With this shift will come a significant opportunity for our entire community to help provide the support and services needed by children and youth who’ve experienced the trauma of abuse and neglect.

Legislation passed in 2017 began the move toward Community-Based Care, an approach to foster care that designates a lead nonprofit organization in a region to find foster homes for children and coordinate other services by assessing regional needs and building a provider network that draws on local resources. This approach is intended to meet the full continuum of a child’s needs, from shelter to education to health care and counseling, in their home communities. The two-year state budget provides funding for Community-Based Care to extend to four new regions, including Dallas and eight nearby counties, by 2023.

North Texas communities have a lot of work to do to prepare for this transition. The Region 3 Foster Care Consortium has been leading efforts to prepare our communities for Community-Based Care. The Consortium is a coalition of individuals and organizations, such as child-placing agencies, health care facilities, school districts and many others, that are committed to promoting the well-being of children in out-of-home care or who are at risk of removal from their homes.

Given the fact that a shortage of foster-care placements in recent months has caused the number of kids sleeping in state offices and other nontraditional settings to surge, coupled with the fact that a long-running federal lawsuit is creating momentum for reform, this is a critical moment for children whom the state has removed from their home. It’s also a powerful opportunity for members of the Dallas area to come together and make this transition as successful and impactful for these vulnerable young Texans as possible.

Those of us involved with bringing Community-Based Care to the Dallas area have the opportunity to learn from other regions where it has been implemented, such as Tarrant County. Also, the Region 3 Foster Care Consortium is assessing the unique needs of the Dallas area as we move toward implementation. There is much more work to be done, however, and plenty of room for others to join us. We encourage individuals and groups who are involved with serving our local children and youth in any way to learn more about the transition and become part of our community-wide effort. The success of Community-Based Care in the Dallas area will depend in part on the public’s awareness and support of the organizations on the front lines of serving children and youth in foster care.

Providing better outcomes for children and youth who have experienced abuse and neglect will not only serve these young Texans well, but also deliver economic, cultural and community

benefits to our entire region. State policymakers have set a clear direction for how to address the complex needs of children and youth in foster care. It’s up to our entire community to implement this new approach in a way that is best for vulnerable children, youth and families.

We hope you will join us at the next quarterly Foster Care Consortium, scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 1 from 9-11 am. You can register for the virtual meeting at https://fostercareconsortium.com/#events.

Jill McLeigh is the Director of Policy, Advocacy, & Research for the Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care at Children’s Health in Dallas.