The 87th Texas Legislature brought $34 million of funding for expanded capacity within community-based care regions through rate increases, grants, and other incentives. During COVID, those resources came when there was an exceptional capacity crisis leading to a record number of children without placement.
At the time, the four SSCCs chose to utilize these needed funds through a joint plan that included six approaches to the capacity challenges plaguing the continuum. Belong, 2INgage, Saint Francis, and OCOK contracted with the Center to document the outcomes of the projects.
Those findings are published in the latest report by the Center in collaboration with the four participating SSCCs.
Kinship Care Takes Priority
Although finding and fitting a kinship arrangement can be challenging, all four SSCC’s prioritized and increased the percentage of children placed with relatives in their catchments.
To do this, OCOK’s team dedicated kinship staff to focus on family-finding and to speed up home studies. And they’ve prioritized community engagement with the local CASA, attorneys, and other stakeholders.
Another North Texas SSCC, 2INgage expanded its wraparound services to prioritize families through kinship (and even return to home). Their focus on these services made it possible for 43 youth (during FY23) to be surrounded by supports for a smooth integration out of more rigid residential settings.
Addressing Critical Needs
One of the immediate steps SSCCs took to reduce children without placement was to find out-of-state residential placements for children and youth who require specialized care and who have complex needs. Specialized residential treatment facilities were critical to supporting children otherwise difficult to place.
Although they hope to build this type of capacity within the state over time, the SSCCs contracted with 13 out-of-state providers to treat and stabilize the children placed there.
First in the Nation
Starting in 2022, OCOK and 2INgage partnered with the Center, TACFS, and the National Board for Child Welfare Professionals to create and provide the first ever Certified Child Welfare Supervisor credential for permanency supervisors. Their first cohort of 42 supervisors were certified. While it is still too early to fully assess the impact, supervisors report feeling more confident and increased knowledge and are showing improved workforce satisfaction.1 Ultimately, however, the goal is improved casework and better decision-making.
OCOK has since joined and a cohort including supervisors from all three SSCCs will be certified in January 2024.
Unique Solutions for Unique Communities
Children without placements remains low in all four areas and some regions like the Panhandle managed by Saint Francis Ministries have had zero cases since August 2022.
During the Capacity Building timeframe, Saint Francis built the first Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP) in the state. They also partnered with a provider in their region to enhance bed space for children and youth with complex trauma.
Alongside their focus on structured residential treatment, they’ve been able to provide direct licensing support for kinship families. Their services (including fixing air conditioning and buying mattresses) have removed barriers to keeping sibling groups together.
The funding from the 87th Legislature allowed each region to target unique needs in different ways. It’s primary purpose was to address CWOP but it allowed the state’s stewards of about a quarter of the kids in care to study and diversify their services.
Belong, the SSCC for the South Central and Hill Country region, counts some of their family support services as the top achievements of the Joint Capacity Project. Through their partnership with Chosen, a kinship care provider, 75 families received services with more than 700 parent coaching sessions. Belong also implemented a Signs of Safety training for their frontline staff. The approach helps staff build relationships with parents and caregivers as they create a safety net of support around their children (preventing future or continued harm).
Overall, each SSCC succeeded in utilizing the funds to build relevant and timely capacity. They were adaptive in response to the ever-shifting needs of the system and of their unique communities.