Amid federal investigation into TX DFPS, East Texas organization finds new way to advocate for foster kids in need

“They’re not just a number, they’re kids. They’re kids that need to be loved.”
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 3:43 AM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - As the foster care crisis continues to worsen in Texas, federal officials are looking into why the state is overwhelmed by the number of children who need care.

A more than decade-long lawsuit claims Texas is violating the constitutional rights of the children who enter the foster care system by depriving them of adequate living conditions and health care, among other things.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say we are in a historic level crisis,” said Director of Public Policy for Texas CASA Sarah Crockett. “Between the pandemic and the federal lawsuit and the historic number of children without placement across the state... I think we’re seeing challenges like we’ve never confronted before and not a lot of simple solutions to those complex challenges.”

Crockett is one of the directors overseeing the thousands of volunteers across Texas who train to become court-appointed special advocates for children in state care. She tells us, one of the biggest challenges for CASA volunteers is the number of kids sent out of Texas.

“We’re seeing a historic number of kids placed out of state in facilities, we have kids in Michigan, in Oregon, in Florida, and we even know about a kid that’s placed in Alaska right now.”

According to court documents received by the Texas Tribune, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services stands to lose a collective $43 million dollars in federal funding between 2022-2023 for being out of compliance with the Family First program.

In a January hearing, reported by the Texas Tribune, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack has this to say about the department’s loose placement practices:

East Texas is no exception to the ongoing crisis, according to The Fostering Collective in Smith County.

“Trending from year to year there has been an increase for the need,” said TFC founder Christi Sowell as we discussed changes in the pineywoods since the beginning of the pandemic. “It’s greater than ever.”

At The Fostering Collective, you’ll find all the necessities for a child suddenly entering state care. That includes car seats, clothes and shoes in nearly every size, books, hygiene products, and more. Their office also now houses the names and faces of the kids in East Texas who need homes through an exhibit referred to as “The Heart Gallery.”

“They’re children that our kids go to school with,” explained Sowell. “They just need someone to take them in and love on them forever.”

With a new digital element added to the exhibit, TFC hopes more people, churches, businesses, and other public events will be encouraged to use the traveling display.

“We have placed the child’s name and then we have a QR code right here so you can zoom right on in, click on that with your phone and it will take you to the TARE website [Texas Adoption Resource Exchange],” said as she held up a 13-year-old child’s plaque as an example. “The TARE website has the child’s profile and just some more information about them.”

For more information on how you can access the Heart Gallery, click here for The Fostering Collective Facebook page.

“They’re not just a number, they’re kids,” said Sowell. “They’re kids that need to be loved.”

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