Numbers help tell the story of foster care
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
By Ferrell Foster
Families come in a variety of forms, and they serve varied personal and social services. One of the key functions of family is to nurture the growth and development of children by providing for a child’s basic human needs.
We all know, however, that some families become unable to provide the needed care for a child. When that happens the state steps in to protect the children, as it does in other circumstances where vulnerable persons are at risk.
A number of things can happen when the state intervenes; one is by arranging foster care — a place to provide needed care to a child for a time. Kids may be placed in a number of possible settings — a relative’s home, a licensed foster home, or residential psychiatric care.
Foster care placements have been rising in many counties in Texas. In 2020, 1,181 McLennan County children were placed in foster care, a figure which has risen steadily over the past 10 years; there were 465 placements in 2011. These numbers reflect all children in the varied types of housing.
The placement number reflects the number of children in care at the beginning of the year and those who enter care during the year, said Anna Futral, executive director of CASA of McLennan County. On any given day there are about 700-800 McLennan County children under state supervision with relatives, licensed homes, or other residential facilities.
The rise since 2011 is staggering and should get our attention. Yes, our population has risen, but it has not nearly tripled, as have the placement numbers. This tells us that a lot of families are struggling to care for their children.
Are we any different from counties of similar size? The rate of placement in McLennan County is 18.36 per 1,000 children. That means 1.8 percent of our children are needing state-supervised care. This is a higher rate than in similar counties — 16.5 per 1,000 in Bell, 4.21 in Brazos, and 7.6 in Jefferson.
The need for care points to a challenge on the family-of-origin side of the equation, but there is also a challenge on the foster care side. Last year, there were 17 licensed homes for foster care in our county. These homes typically house no more than two children.
“Many/most kids do get placed with relatives, which is a good thing,” Futral said, “but for those that don’t have safe relatives to be placed with, they are placed in licensed foster homes. But with so few licensed homes here locally, many children end up outside of McLennan.”
This resulted in only 35% of McLennan County children being placed in the county in 2020. That’s pretty consistent with other similar counties — 36% in Bell County, 35% in Brazos, and 33% in Jefferson. Lubbock County, which is similar in size, placed 51% within their county. Enough of the numbers; you get the picture. Families need help, and the children in those families need help. Leaders in McLennan County have come together to pursue solutions — stress on the plural “solutions.” These things will not be improved overnight, but we have a lot of good people who care about pursuing that improvement.
If you would like to be involved, contact me at email@example.com.
The data was compiled by Jeremy Rhodes of Prosper Waco from the Texas State Department of Family and Protective Services Data Book.
Ferrell Foster is senior specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco. He is also acting executive director of Act Locally Waco.