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Texas has spent over $7 million fighting foster care lawsuit

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AUSTIN — Texas has spent more than $7 million fighting a class-action lawsuit over its troubled foster care system.

Since 2011, three state agencies have spent nearly $6.6 million in lawyers’ and other state staff members’ time and on travel, transcription services and other expenses related to the federal suit, according to data obtained by The Dallas Morning News under Texas’ open records law.

Additionally, the Department of Family and Protective Services has been forced to pay $650,000 for salary and travel expenses of the two experts appointed by the court to come up with a reform plan.

Last December, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack declared Texas’ foster care system unconstitutionally flawed and ordered the independent overhaul. The lawsuit was filed in 2011 by the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights and multiple Texas law firms.

Some child advocates and lawyers who brought the suit on behalf of 12,000 children in long-term foster care find Texas’ resistance disheartening.

“We’d like to see state leaders quickly put the legal battles in the rearview mirror and focus on helping kids,” said Kate Murphy of Texans Care for Children.

Paul Yetter of Houston, who was the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer at trial, said, “Given that innocent children’s lives are at stake, the state should be focused on fixing its broken system, not spending millions to defend it.”

Spokesmen for Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton insist the legal costs were necessary. They say that only the state itself, free of judicial interference, can fix Texas’ foster care system, which state officials have acknowledged needs work.

Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander said that “if the plaintiffs complain about wasting resources on defending against its lawsuit, they should drop their lawsuit and stop using Texas children as hostages for their policy negotiation.'”

Judge Jack’s final order in the case could come in a few months and she could effectively order the state to spend tens of millions a year on new initiatives. Paxton appears all but certain to appeal the final order.

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Young Girls In State Care To Get Transitional Home

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Construction is slated to begin soon on the Caribbean’s first independent living complex for wards of the State, following Friday’s official groundbreaking ceremony at 24 Lady Musgrave Drive, New Kingston.

Upon completion, the facility will be equipped to house at lease 40 young women who have reached the age of 18, when, by law, they are required to leave their places of safety, irrespective of whether they have a job or place to live.

Under the Transitional Living Program for Children in State Care, these young women will spend up to two additional years in the care of the state.

Dr Luz Longsworth, principal of the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), used the groundbreaking ceremony to announce the gift of 30 one-year scholarships to the pioneer residents of the complex. Another 15 such scholarships will be provided to young men, also wards of the state, at the tertiary level as well.

Luis Moreno, United States ambassador to Jamaica, gave a commitment that his country would fund a similar facility for young men, to be built in Manning, St Elizabeth. The United States Agency for International Development is funding the Kingston facility at a cost of US$1.45 million under the Development Grants Program, in what Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna described as a game-changing partnership.

With the Jamaican Government donating prime land space in New Kingston’s ‘Golden Triangle’, the project will be implemented through the collaborative efforts of the Caribbean Child Development Centre, Child Development Agency, the Social Welfare Centre, and the UWI Project Management Office.

Meanwhile, Rosalee Gage-Grey, chief executive officer of the Child Development Agency, spoke to the importance of this intervention.

VERY SIGNIFICANT

“It is very significant because we have about 700 children that leave care each year. Some of them are in foster care, and the foster parents will continue to keep them; some can be reintegrated with their own families. We have some who come into Kingston for tertiary education and need a place, and so it will provide a space where they can move from university to work for the period of the two years, and so its very significant,” she told The Gleaner.

“And it’s semi-independent, meaning that they will take care of themselves, with some support. So they will be comfortable with individualized spaces, and we will continue to provide the support, the life skills for them to transition successfully.”

A clearly excited Hanna gave this response when asked to gauge the significance of the new facility.

On a scale of 1-10?

“Eleven!” she answered, noting that it will address an area of need that has been neglected for too long.

“It’s a long time in the making, and its something that I’m very pleased with; conceptualized it, UWI came on board, USAID came on board, and now they’ve said to us, we are going to be working on the contract for the one for the boys in St Elizabeth. We gave the land, UWI is giving the social work and the training, USAID is putting up the money, so there is a lot of equity going into this,” she added.

However, the youth minister would not commit to the completion timeline for the Kingston facility or the start-up for the one slated for St Elizabeth.

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Church hopes to match kids with foster families

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WAYNESBORO — Sonya Payne remembers her best birthday ever.

It was in 2010, the day she legally adopted her foster daughter Ariel Simone Payne, 16.

Ariel wasn’t the first child that Payne has fostered. In fact, Payne estimates that she’s legally fostered 40 children since 1993, and taken in over 70, even if only temporarily.

“That’s why we call her superwoman,” said Ariel’s adoptive sister Taimonique Payne, 15 and a half years old.

Payne decided to become a foster parent while working with battered women, and seeing the effect it had on both the women and children.

“It was too much,” Payne said. “I told my husband, we have to do something to help these kids.”

She read about her first foster child in the newspaper in 1993 and the rest is history.

Even with families like the Paynes, there are still local children in the foster care system that do not currently have homes and are at risk of aging out of the system, which severely affects their chances of success once they become adults, said Jennifer Eccles, foster parent and member of the mission team at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro. There are 163 kids in foster homes locally, but 14 that don’t have somewhere to call home.

That’s why the church decided to hold a summit about foster care, with a panel of foster care workers, parents and adopted teenagers, to inform the community about the need for more participation in the foster care system.

The summit was Sunday afternoon and about 25 people attended, Eccles said.

“The church feels very strongly that we have a calling to help these kids in our community,” said the mom of six. “They need families.”

One of the main focuses of the summit was on the need for care for older children and children with siblings, specifically, Eccles said. Removing the stigma that older children come with more problems is key.

“This is not about bad behavior,” Eccles said of why children end up in the foster care system. “It’s because of abuse or neglect.”

Both Ariel and Taimonique spoke about being adopted and what they would tell other foster parents if they could.

“Never give up on your adopted kids,” Taimonique said. They may have difficult behavior and difficulty adjusting, but never to give up.

For more information about foster parenting call Jennifer Edson or Heather Hudnall at Shenandoah Valley Social Services at 540-245-5800.

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500 Children Adopted During Holiday Season!

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TALLAHASSEE, FL—More than 500 children from Pensacola to Miami were adopted during dozens of November celebrations of National Adoption Month. “Our goal for children in foster care is to find a forever family who will love them, accept them and give them the home that they deserve,” said Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins. “I am so proud of our agency and our partners who are always looking for a permanent home for our kids.” Florida’s Explore Adoption campaign takes place each November. A newly redesigned website at http://www.adoptflorida.org highlighted amazing children and sibling groups in foster care each day of the month with photos and videos. The children most in need of homes are teens, sibling groups and children with special needs whose biggest dream is to be part of a permanent, loving family. “I would like to thank all of our wonderful parents who adopted children this month, and throughout this year,” said Florida’s Chief Child Advocate Zack Gibson, Director of the Governor’s Office of Adoption and Child Protection. “National Adoption Month may be over, but our work is not finished. There are still about 750 children waiting for a family to call their own.” More than 500 adoptions have been reported from our community-based care partners across the state. All of the adoptions have not yet been reported, so the number may still increase. Last year, 3,250 children were adopted from Florida’s foster care system. That was the fifth year in a row that more than 3,000 children were adopted from foster care, bringing the total to more than 17,000. Additionally, over the past two years, Florida has significantly reduced the number of children in foster care available for adoption without an identified family. Florida’s children come into foster care through no fault of their own but because they were abused, neglected or abandoned. They come from varied backgrounds, circumstances, races and ethnicities. While some have specific medical, physical or emotional issues that require special care, many do not. Their entire life histories are shared with prospective adoptive parents. While private adoption can cost more than $30,000, adopting one of Florida’s children in foster care costs little or nothing. The benefits include a monthly adoption subsidy for the family, health benefits for the child, and free college tuition at a Florida public university, community college or vocational school. For more information about the “30 Days of Amazing Children: Explore Adoption!” initiative or general questions about adoption of foster children in Florida, please visit www.adoptflorida.org, please visit to send your donations at http://www.gofundme.com/fepxos  call 1-800-962-3678 (1-800-96-ADOPT), or check out our Twitter feed at @ExploreAdoption.

MANY UNACCOMPANIED FOREIGN CHILDREN RECEIVING BETTER CARE THAN US FOSTER KIDS

On June 13, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters in a press conference that the federal government would do what was in the “best interest” of thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) crossing the border into south Texas every week. He also denied that the taxpayer-funded care being provided to them was serving as an incentive to Central American families to send more of their children. But a closer look at the services UACs are receiving while they go through removal proceedings tells a different story.

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Over the last several weeks, US Border Patrol stations in south Texas have been overrun with illegal immigrants from mostly Central America. Johnson said that since October 2013, agents have apprehended over 47,000 UACs, roughly double the 24,000 UACs who were apprehended the previous fiscal year. Prior to 2012, the average number of UACs under US government supervision averaged around 7,500 kids. According to procedures outlined in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, he stated the goal was to transport these children in “a safe and human manner” to the US Department of Health and Human Services, where they would be cared for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

The primary goal of the ORR is to reunited UACs with family members or other legal guardians in the United States while they go through removal proceedings. However, if those family members or guardians are in the country illegally, there was no indication by DHS officials that those individuals would also be placed into removal proceedings despite the fact they have to provide a considerable amount of identification in order to claim a UAC.

Procedures for transporting and caring for UACs depend on the children’s ages. According to the ORR’s Division for Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS), most UACs over the age of 13 are placed in shelters or group homes. However, for UACs ages 13 and younger who don’t have a relative or guardian who can care for them, “short and long-term foster care is available through ORR’s foster care program network.”

The services these 58 licensed ORR facilities provide are extensive: “The facilities, which operate under cooperative agreements and contracts, provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, family reunification, access to legal services, and case management.” But perhaps the most interesting claim by DUCS is “Ensuring that the interests of the UAC are considered in decisions related to their care and custody.” The “best interest” of UACs coming from gang war-torn countries like Honduras is almost always a permanent stay here in the United States.

Johnson defended the services being provided to UACs while going through removal proceedings. “We provide a number of things [for UACs] because our laws require it and our values require it,” he said. He also said that those apprehended at our borders are priorities for removal regardless of age—a sentiment echoed by ICE Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations Tom Homan, who said, “Every [unaccompanied] child is placed into removal proceedings.”

But the circumstances for those children in removal proceedings are plush in some cases compared to US citizen children placed in foster care. According to Children’s Rights, a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems, “many child welfare systems are underfunded, understaffed, beset by serious system-wide problems, and lacking the leadership necessary to fix them.” Some of the claims the group makes are that US child welfare systems fail to protect children in foster care from further abuse and neglect, don’t provide adequate medical and mental health services, and warehouse children in institutions, group homes, emergency shelters.

This means one of two things. Either UACs apprehended at the border are being placed into the same system as US citizen children and not receiving nearly the adequate level of care the ORR says it is providing, or UACs are placed into a different federal foster network that provides a superior level of care to that being provided to US citizen children.

The legal support US citizen children in foster care and UACs receive can also vary wildly. During court proceedings, American kids in foster care are assigned a lawyer by the judge in their family court to oversee their cases, according to The Legal Aid Society. For UACs, the DUCS engages in “coordination of a pro-bono attorney outreach project to pilot pro-bono capacity building models in major immigration apprehension areas so that more UAC can have access to legal representation.”

While the US government does not pay for legal representation for UACs, many of the children receive assistance from top-notch immigration attorneys who take part in programs like The Safe Passage Project. In May 2014, Director Lenni Benson wrote a letter to The New York Times in which she said, “Our organization, Safe Passage Project, finds that nearly 90 percent of the unaccompanied minors we meet who are facing deportation qualify for immigration relief, allowing them to remain in the United States legally.” Benson also added, “While emergency shelters provide a temporary solution for unaccompanied minors entering the United States, appointed legal counsel to enable these vulnerable young people to receive the immigration remedies for which they might be eligible would provide permanency and would truly be in their best interests.”

To say that all these benefits being provided to UACs are not acting as an incentive for families in Central America to send even more children is misleading, irresponsible, and is further eroding the efforts of our law enforcement agencies to control our southwest border.

Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about the evolution of cross-border migration in her new book,Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.

 

New Law That Keeps Older Kids In Foster Care Creating Need For Parents

Foster Care Kids Need Love Too

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A new law that just took effect keeps foster children in the system longer to help them transition into adulthood, but it also creates a new problem.

Derik Moss-Clark, 18, said he had a rough childhood.

He had been left alone in hotel rooms, abandoned at his house and even sold drugs in eighth grade to pay the rent.

“I got woke up daily getting abused, beat, burned,” he said.

He has been in and out of the foster system since age nine.

He knows that many kids in similar situations aren’t ready to move out on their own at age 18.

“We want to leave the system, we want to live our own lives, but because of what we’ve been through and the trauma we’ve dealt with we are not necessarily ready,” he said.

That’s why he supports the new law that just took effect January 1. It allows foster children to stay in the system until they’re 21.

Before they’d be forced out at 18, left to deal with the problems of the world on their own. They would get some assistance from the state. This new law allows them to receive more benefits.

But now there’s an even greater need for foster parents.

Nicole Pulcinimason is a representative with Kids Central INC and works closely with foster children.

“The whole state is looking for foster parents to this group of children,” she said.

DCF leaders said taking on this responsibility is more like a mentor role – rather than a parental role.

“We need foster homes and foster parents who are dedicated to these kids, bring them into their home, and help guide them into their decision making,” Pulcinimason said.

Moss-Clark has found a family with his church and his girlfriend’s relatives.

He’s in his second year of college taking businesses administration classes.

“I want to tell everyone that you don’t have to be what your life has been, you can take every day as a challenge, you can be better than what your parents were, better than the people around you, the situations you walked through,” Moss-Clark said.

Derek is excited for the future, but he knows there are other teens just like him who need the same hope and help.

Right now DCF said there are 200 teens who will turn 18 this year. More than 500 are between the age 18 and 21.

Meet Lisa Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Member

We want to thank Lisa Sternberg a member of the Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Family! for sharing her story. Meet Lisa, 27 years ago this day, DEC 20th 1986, five days before Christmas, I became a foster kid. I entered the “system”, set to be another statistic. The cards stacked against me, set to fail by society standards. Just another kid with a messed up life thanks to the sickness of a father. And it sucked…. a lot….and it hurt….still does. I spent years holding my breath waiting for life to go back to the way it was before, not understanding then that that life would have destroyed me even further than it already had. I almost gave up, I was ready to fail, I was ready to let the cards fall, I was part of the system…..
But what the system and the cards and society didn’t know is that there was this seed planted in me, long before anyone knew my name. I had this power to be an overcomer. I had this strength that no one else saw in me but God. I ran from Him, hated him, tried everything I could to destroy his creation…me. I drank as a teen, long before sixteen. I smoked. I attempted suicide, more than once, more than twice, more…, I was raped, I was promiscuous, I did drugs, I did all the things the world was telling me would make me feel better…and if I did them I would be normal, loved, not a number….all lies. Truth, God was there thru it all, waiting for me to fall.
Even thru all the turmoil I tried to put my best face and foot forward, and I had goals. I have traveled a lot and seen enough to feel life. I graduated high school with high honors and a full scholarship to College (from the system DCFS). I served my country (GO ARMY). I have a good life and great friends. I finally stopped being mad at God and let him have my life, he had it all along, and I just had to realize it would be better if he was in control. But perhaps the best thing I have ever done and the greatest lesson in life is the fact that I gave life to three beautiful children who will, God willing, never have to say on this day….I became a foster kid. Please support our movement. It takes a brave person with courage to share a sadden story. send your monetary donations to our cause https://www.wepay.com/donations/fostercarekidsneedlovetoo “Drawing Success” for the youth of our nation Happy Holidays!

Foster care contractor TFI Family Services is seeking foster parents

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Foster care contractor TFI Family Services is seeking foster parents for the Miami area.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) settled a class-action civil-rights lawsuit in 2011 against its foster-care system by agreeing to make improvements in targeted areas of the state’s child welfare system. As part of this settlement agreement, OKDHS is developing an improvement plan, called the Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan, which will guide the agency in the years ahead as it works to make improvements in the way it cares for children in foster care.

OKDHS awarded contracts on Aug. 6 through June 30, 2014. with renewal options to private partnerships for the recruitment, support and retention of foster families as part of the plan.

Foster-care contracts were awarded to Angels Foster Family Network, Inc., of Oklahoma City, DCCA/Tall Grass Family Services of Lawrence, Kan., St. Francis Community Services of Tulsa, and TFI Family Connections, LLC of Emporia, Kan. The contract awards came after a second round of bids, the first in April canceled by DHS Director Ed Lake because of concerns over the prescriptive nature of the contracts, how service areas were defined, and the process not allowing provider input.

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In Ottawa County the number of available foster homes is limited. There are currently 44 children in foster care in the county and just 12 approved licensed foster homes. TIF will be serving the northeast area of Oklahoma, and is searching for anyone interested in fostering children.

TFI Family Connections representative Jason Cecil has been in the Miami area to begin recruiting efforts.

“There’s a pretty big discrepancy in the number of kids coming into the system compared to the number of foster homes,” Cecil said. “Some of those kids are placed with relatives, aunts , uncles, grandparents, or foster parents. If there isn’t an available foster home in Miami they will send them outside of Ottawa County. That’s our task to get more foster homes here. Our goal is to get enough homes in the area so that kid can stay in Miami.”

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The overwhelming lack of available foster homes in the area takes the community’s children in need out of their familiar surroundings, schools and churches, making an already difficult situation even more traumatic for the child.

The privatization of foster care in Oklahoma was also approved to help free case workers for more hours to work with the biological families toward the goal of reunification.

TFI Connections is a division of TFI Services in Kansas, which has a long history of providing foster homes there. With an office in Bartlesville, Cecil said TFI is now ready to provide the same service in Oklahoma.

“Our goal is to get enough families here to where we can hire a worker for here in Miami,” he said.

TFI foster families receive the services of dedicated, professional personal social worker/case workers, 24-hour on-call support, reimbursement payments, local monthly support meetings, free ongoing comprehensive training, multi-media resource library, respite services, liability insurance, and independent advocacy to support the home.

“With us they’ll have a worker assigned directly to their home to establish a rapport with that worker. Then you have somebody to contact when things aren’t going as they should,” Cecil said.

To qualifiy as a foster-parenting homes for TFI, you must:

  • 21 years of age with no maximum age
  • have a permanent residence
  • have an outside income source
  • complete training
  • pass OSBI background checks
  • pass a home study and inspection

“The first thing we do after they contact us is have them fill out a packet of information. Then we will put them in a class,” Cecil said. “It’s a 10-week class, one night a week, for three hours.”

Certified TFI foster parents fill out a profile, specifying preferences for fostering such as age, gender, sibling groups or children with disabilities.

“They have all the control,” he said.

There are no medical expenses. and clothing vouchers are given to assist TFI foster homes as well as reimbursements of $450 to $500 per month. There are no contractual obligations.

“We would encourage any family that has thought of fostering to go ahead and call,” Cecil said.

TIF is starting free classes on Aug. 29 at the First Christian Church 2424 N. Main St., Miami. Those interested can attend the classes or contact TIF at 800-279-9914 or www.tfifamilyconnections.org to learn more.

New program to provide jobs for foster-care youths in Orlando

Foster Care Kids Need Love Too

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For scores of Central Florida foster teens who turn 18 each year, aging out of the state’s custody means no place to live, no job, no drivers license and no transportation.

Although teen unemployment is at historically high levels, for foster youths the rate has been reported as high as 85 percent, and many end up homeless, in jail or on public assistance.

That’s why local nonprofit agencies are teaming with foster-care officials to get them the internships and job-mentoring programs that are typically a rite of passage for other kids.

Several employers — including Panera Bread, Westgate Resorts and Orlando Senior Health Network — already work with such teens. But Workforce Central Florida will approach others to join a new federally funded pilot project that will cover training and three months of salaries and benefits for foster youths.

“We’re looking to manufacturing, we’re looking to hospitality, we’re looking to health care, and we’re looking to where we can align the youth with the right opportunities,” said Workforce President and CEO Pamela Nabors.

Every year, about 170 kids age out of the foster-care system in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

“These kids are in foster care because the adults in their lives have failed them,” said Joe Kilsheimer, an ApopkaCity Council member who chairs the City of Life Foundation — a nonprofit organization that pushed Workforce to address the issue. “They belong to all of us. And if they’re channeled in the right direction, they can become happy, productive, taxpaying citizens.”

As evidence, there is Nicole Rodriguez, who was placed in an Orlando foster-care group home at 14. When she aged out of care at 18, she had no job, no money and no choice but to return to the family once deemed unfit to care for her. She eventually spent time living out of a car.

But because she had learned job skills in her final year of foster care and had a mentor through City of Life, she was able to land a job at Orlando Senior Health Network, and she enrolled in Valencia. Now 22, she has been promoted, owns a car, is four classes shy of a degree — and just signed a mortgage on a home in east Orange County.

“It was a hard mountain to climb, but it’s possible,” she said. “Foster kids are the same as anyone else, and they need the same chances as anyone else.”

Sometimes, though, they need a little more guidance. Few have had summer or part-time jobs. Their lives often are filled with the instability of frequent moves and changing schools. They may never have learned how to dress for the workplace or developed decent communication skills.

The local franchise of Panera Bread discovered the obstacles after launching a foster-youth employment program three years ago with a simple group orientation, some basic instructions — and not much more.

“We went way too hard way too fast and soon fell right on our face,” said Eryn Catter, director of public relations for the franchise. “We [quickly] found ourselves with only a handful of these employees left.”

A year ago, the company revamped the program to include more one-on-one time with the foster youths to determine what each needed. Transportation turned out to be a major hurdle, and in many cases the teens couldn’t afford their work uniforms. The company started a fundraising initiative to help.

The changes are working.

“We hope to move forward and hire more [foster youths] this year,” Catter said.

Workforce plans to start slowly.

Gerard Glynn, an attorney, longtime child-welfare advocate and City of Life adviser, said the most important elements are having one stable adult in the teens’ lives and simply giving them that first chance.

“We don’t want them to continue to be dependent on government,” Glynn said. “We want to teach them to get up and show up. So we emphasize getting that first job, not getting a forever job. Once they do that, they can learn the skills to work on their forever job.”

ksantich@tribune.com or 407-420-5503. Employers interested in joining the Workforce pilot program can call 407-531-1200.