We need to look at the foster care system.


Before retiring in 2019 after 13 years as a social worker for child protection services, I mainly dealt with difficult-to-place adolescents as a guardianship assistant. From my experience, I am familiar with many of the challenges that CPS social workers face in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, or DFPS, system.

For months the Texas State Employees Union, of which I am a member, tried to draw attention to the care of children without placement, or CWOP – and the care of social workers.

Foster homes continue to close, and motels and hotels are understandably not welcoming to foster children, who are often destructive and difficult to manage, and shouldn’t be there anyway.

Working as a social worker for the SPC can be dangerous. A friend of mine was severely beaten by a youth. Another friend has been quarantined three times due to his exposure to COVID-19.

CPC social workers should be compensated with a risk premium for what they have to endure, and leaders should do more to make sure it’s not that dangerous in the first place. But they don’t, so the social workers quit.

Attrition levels are on the rise because family and personal life are disrupted by the unacceptable overtime burden, in part because of the CWOP. Whenever social workers leave, DFPS must hire new social workers and invest time and money in their training.

And the dysfunctional cycle continues.

Worse yet, children continue to suffer. Texas needs state-of-the-art residential treatment centers and emergency shelters that can meet the needs of these young people before they end up in the juvenile justice system, a hospital or worse.

We need to keep these children near the house where they can heal. But DFPS has not been able to afford enough trauma-informed social workers and therapists or the well-equipped facilities needed to care for foster children.

City, county and state leaders need to consider their priorities regarding the urgent needs of our youth in foster care, social workers, foster parents and loved ones who provide foster care. It’s time they fixed our broken system.

And the community must get involved. They must recognize the needs of children who are born into poverty, neglect and abuse. I challenge them to consider becoming foster parents and to vote for leaders who will better fund a more reliable safety net for children.

Mary Baird worked for 13 years in the Department of Family and Protective Services after a career as a social worker dealing with homelessness, addiction, education and mental health services.

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