Crisis: The Foster Care System In Texas
An Interview with
Wayne Carson, LCCA, PhD
Chief Executive Officer
ACH child and family services
Dr. Carson, you are CEO of ACH Child and Family Services. What is the mission of your organization?
The focus of everything we do is to “Protect Children and Preserve Families.” We partner with children and families to create safety, hope, love and the capacity to thrive.
The foster care system in Texas is in a state of crisis. How did this happen?
The challenges in the foster care system are complex and have existed for many years despite past efforts to address them. Fundamentally, the issues are a result of two things: a) the system being chronically underfunded, and b) the system relying on decisions and authority being primarily centered in Austin that has resulted in a fragmented approach. These two issues make it difficult for the foster care system to respond to the large number of children in foster care who have all suffered some form of trauma, and who need specialized care to help integrate them into a permanent family setting.
ACH was awarded a $30 million/year contract by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to launch a Texas’ first Urban Foster Care Redesign project. Tell us about that.
This model provides a very powerful opportunity to address some of these chronic problems. It shifts authority and resources to local communities; so that we can better work together and utilize the unique relationships and resources of local communities. It puts one entity in charge of organizing and developing a comprehensive array of services for children based on the specific needs of children in that area. This approach is also designed to closely measure outcomes for children; so we can see how we are doing and make changes where needed. It is a much more responsive and accountable system than the previous approach to foster care; and it’s already producing some better outcomes.
What are the main differentiators that are making your program work?
We can now make decisions for kids locally; and we have the flexibility to develop services to best help our kids. For example, we work closely with our provider network to get daily updates of the current openings in their foster homes. Knowing exactly what openings are available in what specific foster homes helps us make fast placement decisions that also best match a child with a foster home. This is a very important decision for the child; and by having this information available immediately, we have been able to increase the number of children placed in their home community by 13% in the first 12 months of the contract. No other area in the state has information to match children with homes as we do.
Many kids that age out of the foster care system at age 18; are left with very few resources to help them once they leave the system. Is this being addressed in the redesign program?
Several years ago the Texas Department of Family and Protective started a program called “Supervised Independent Living” to extend services to foster youth until their 22nd birthday. This program is active in Region 3b; and Our Community Our Kids works with providers to make youth who will age out of care aware of this program and to transition into it if they choose to participate.
Is the intention to scale this redesign program across all regions of the state of Texas at some point?
A second catchment area has been identified and TDFPS is currently reviewing bids from providers. In their current budget request, TDFPS has requested funding to increase the number of regions by 8 over the next 2 years. We are told TDFPS plans to continue to expand this program in Texas; and we believe this is a smart move.
Give us some historical background if you would about how the foster care system began in the United States.
Foster care started in the US when those working with children in orphanages and large institutions felt that children could be better served in families. These children had no biological families who could serve them; and “foster” families were found so that these children could live in families. What started as a largely volunteer effort to provide families for orphans; has evolved into a more professional approach for healing trauma in children who have experienced abuse and neglect. While the system has changed since it’s original orgins; the healing power of a family continues to prove a very powerful way to help abused children learn that they can be safe and that they are loveable. The foster families in our system are amazing, loving and giving people; who are truly changing the lives of the children in their homes.
You received your bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, then went on to secure a master’s and doctorate in social work. Why did you decide to go into social work vs. engineering?
I decided that my passion was helping children and although I enjoyed engineering; I wasn’t passionate about going to work every morning. This led to a process of discernment about my career path; and to the field of social work due to its’ holistic view of a person in the environment and the leadership role social work has played in the field of child welfare.
Has your engineering background helped you in anyway with your current career?
The analytical thinking of my engineering background does sometimes help with the strategic decisions that we make as a large non-profit organization. All I had to do to transition to social work was to get in touch with my feelings!
During your 16-year tenure as CEO of ACH, you and your team have interacted with thousands of children and families. Is there one child or family in particular whose story in you would like to share with our readers?
I have continued to stay in touch with many adults who were part of our services as children. They are inspirations to me in my role at ACH. While ACH was clearly part of their childhood; their success in life has just as much to do with their resiliency and their determination to overcome a difficult start to life. They took advantage of the opportunities ACH provided; but they had many choices and decisions to make along the way that led to them breaking often long-standing family patterns. They are amazing people and they are heroes.
What do we as a community and state need to do to ensure children in foster care get the funding and services they deserve in order for them to have a bright future?
Let your voices be heard now! The next 60 days hold a unique opportunity to influence how Texas cares for our children.
Our elected officials need to know that our community supports this being the time to finally address issues which have plagued the Texas foster care system by funding it adequately and by expanding Community Based Foster Care to other areas of the state.
Who has been a professional hero of yours?
My first CEO, Edd Robinett showed me how to put kids first in everything; and two professors in my Ph.D. program Dr. Rick Dangel and Dr. Charles Mindel, showed me how academia can be active and involved in not just teaching but in changing how practice should use information and research to improve.
My mom and dad showed me a level of unconditional love that helps me everyday. My wife is the most giving person I know; and my three kids are simply joys to know and be around. I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by such a great family.
What is the part about your job you love the most?
I love seeing children who have had a rough start to life learn that they are safe and empowered; and seeing our amazing staff work so selflessly to help these children be successful in a permanent family.
Can you leave us with your favorite quote.
“When you share sorrow with those you love, it divides. When you share joy with those you live with it multiplies.”
Thank you Dr. Carson.
For more information, check out these resource links:
ACH Website: www.ACHservices.org
Facebook Page: www.faceboook.com/ACHchildandfamily
Foster Care Redesign Program: http://achservices.org/images/ACH_Foster_Care_Redesign_Advocacy_Pages_111416_reduced.pdf
Our Community, Our Kids: http://achservices.org/images/FCRedesign1page.pdf