We must re-imagine and create a child welfare system in which children are kept out of foster care whenever possible through culturally responsive and equitable approaches, as well as by implementing strategic partnerships between families, communities, and the court system. Of course, in an ideal world, happy and healthy families would be the only kind we have. Realistically, there will always be a need to extend helping hands to families struggling with a range of challenges such as poverty, stress, mental health and situational issues. In the world we envision, the need to remove children from their family homes would be eliminated in a majority of the cases. Even for the cases when removal is absolutely necessary, we would assure kinship care or local foster care whenever possible and community services would be culturally responsive, age-appropriate, trauma-informed and evidence-based.
Over the past several years it has become apparent that DFPS is unable, alone, to drastically shift practices, policy, and culture in a way that is more trauma-informed and culturally responsive. As safety and the well-being of children in DFPS care has become increasingly of concern, the Travis County community has made clear we have a desire to keep our children safe and are ready to take charge of how DFPS impacts our community. The Travis County Child Welfare Re-Imagined pilot provides a plan for the partnership between DFPS, the Travis County child welfare courts, and the community to implement a child welfare system unique to this community. We will highlight the voices of our children and families, to assure we prevent removals, provide supports to caregivers, assure our practices are trauma-informed and culturally responsive, and ultimately keep the best interest of our children and the community in focus.
Vision for Travis County
Family Preservation Leadership Council
The Advisory Council for the Re-Imagined Pilot of Individuals with Lived Experience
Improving the System for Families with Open Cases
Vision: All families in Austin have the culturally relevant support and connections they need for their children to thrive.
Mission: Center the voices of Travis County community members with lived experience to end the removal of children from their families.
Substance Abuse & Recovery:
Substance abuse concerns is the most common issue involved in Travis County CPS cases. Through the Travis County Model Court for Children and Families, we have a well established Family Drug Treatment Court program. However, the Family Drug Treatment Court program is not available for all families although best practices have been implemented in this program to assist parenting in recovery most safely and effectively. This Workgroup will focus on bringing best practices and lessons learned from the Family Drug Treatment Court to the entire Travis County CPS dockets.
Domestic Violence & Healthy Family Relationships:
Domestic violence concerns is the second most common issue involved in Travis County CPS cases. Through the Travis County Model Court for Children and Families we have a long standing Domestic Violence & CPS Committee that has served as the core for this Workgroup. Mission Capital has also helped to guide the founding work for this group.
Mental/Behavioral Health of Youth:
While mental/behavioral health of youth issues are not the most common issues for all Travis County CPS cases, when these issues are present, they consume an extraordinary amount of time from the Court, advocates, and families. Additionally, Stage 1 of the Re-Imagined pilot focuses on placement for children in "child without placement" status and the children served in that stage are included in the population of children that will be considered by this workgroup.
Dual Status Prevention:
The Dual Status Prevention Workgroup is a collective effort to address prevention of our Travis County youth from becoming dual status. This group is actively working toward preventing foster kids from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system AND preventing kids in the juvenile justice system from entering foster care.
Aging Out Foster Youth:
Support for young adults aging out of the foster care system has been insufficient for years. This group is working to set up foster youth for success and independence with a focus on preventing homelessness, increasing continued education opportunities, and assuring financial stability.
In response to many current crisis situations in child welfare, the Hon. Aurora Martinez Jones, 126th District Court Judge, envisioned the Child Welfare Re-Imagined Pilot. With support from Casey Family Programs, the Pilot engaged Copia Consulting to help organize and support efforts.
A Judicial Lead Team was created by Hon. Aurora Martinez Jones to help brainstorm efforts for the Pilot. The Judicial Lead Team included Travis County HHS, Superior HealthPlan, Integral Care, Casey Family Programs, Mission Capital, Texans Care for Children, Texas Alliance for Children and Family Services, Texas Department of Family and Protective Service, Foster Community, Foster Village, Partnerships for Children, Change1, and other community stakeholders.
Advisory Group of Individuals with Lived Experience
With consulting from the Change1 founder, a group of individuals with lived experience have been convened to help inform the Pilot and to create an Advisory Group.
SAFE Harbor Pipeline to Placement
Less than 3 months after the launch of the SAFE Harbor location for children without placement in Travis County, a transition to the SAFE Harbor Pipeline to Placement has been successful and all children who were in the pilot without placement received formal placements. Through continued partnership with SAFE moving forward, up to 5 Travis County foster children at a time are eligible for consideration in the SAFE Harbor Pipeline to Placement, to avoid the child being without placement.
Improved Support for Fathers
After extensive planning, the Pilot has been able to partner with the Man In Me Center for Fathers & Families to offer improved support for fathers and father figures involved in the child welfare system through the Cultivating Fathers cohorts. For several weeks the fathers in these cohorts are provided sessions on parenting, life skills, healthy relationships, mental health, financial literacy, career development, and more.
Improving Bio-Foster Family Communication
Through the established partnership with OurFamilyWizard, the Pilot is launching use of the OFW App to help improve communication between biological family of children in foster care and their foster family.
Treatment Foster Family Care Training
Treatment Foster Family Care (TFFC) Training through Arrow Child & Family Ministries has begun to be offered to parents and relative caregivers of youth with substantial mental and behavioral health needs so that those youth can return home with family trained to support their success.
Partnering with Residential Treatment
Camp Worth, in Ft. Worth, Texas, has partnered with the Pilot to provide affirming, culturally responsive and trauma-informed care to our youth in need of residential treatment.