Texas has a dearth of treatment beds available for the most disturbed of its foster children, and facilities keep closing or losing their state contracts. The situation complicates the state's response to a federal judge's scathing criticisms about shoddy care. Last spring, a 7-year-old read a book at a shelter in Dallas County run by Jonathan's Place, which also operates a residential treatment program for girls.

By Robert T. Garrett

Updated: 08 July 2016 11:00 AM

AUSTIN Just as Texas’ foster care capacity crunch keeps getting worse, Child Protective Services’ top decision maker on child placements is retiring.

Over a six-month period, officials have lost nearly 200 residential treatment center beds where they used to be able to place foster children with complex emotional and behavioral problems.

Experts said the closures or holds on adding children to the centers, plus the sudden retirement of CPS placement director Melanie Cleveland, will complicate the state’s efforts to respond to a federal judge’s scathing criticisms of Texas foster care.

Cleveland is in charge of managing placements and building more capacity, a nerve-wracking job she has held for less than a year.

Last week, Sinclair Children’s Center in Woodville announced it is voluntarily closing two residential operations in southeast Texas. As a result, CPS will have 53 fewer beds for abused and neglected children it has removed from their birth families.

Earlier in the year, the Department of Family and Protective Services took enforcement action against four other residential treatment centers, including two in the Panhandle, where a mass removal of seriously disturbed children drew criticism.

Responding to requests fromThe Dallas Morning News, the department acknowledged Thursday that in late January, it also refused to re-up the contracts of The Treehouse, a 25-bed facility in Conroe, and Avalon Center Inc., a 32-bed facility in the Central Texas town of Eddy, because of concerns about the quality of care.

For a time, the department suspended additional placements of children withCarter’s Kids Inc., a 60-bed treatment center in Richmond, citing deficiencies. Last week, though, it lifted the placement hold on the facility, saying conditions had improved. The center is run by former NFL player Tim Carter.

Last August, nearly 1,700 children were living in the centers. The already or soon-to-be shuttered centers would have been able to house about 12 percent of those children.

That comes on top of an existing bed shortage.Children again are sleeping in CPS offices because there is no available placement that’s suitable.

Residential treatment centers, especially, are not distributed well geographically to align with demand. For years, the department has noted there are many in and around Houston but relatively few in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The department is working on a formal study of the imbalances, which is due out this summer.

Officials acknowledge it’s increasingly hard to place children in their home community, especially in rural Texas. That’s partly because operators can refuse to take a child in CPS care.

“We don’t have any cushion,” said department spokesman Patrick Crimmins. “We don’t have any [centers] opening as these are closing.”

A bill being debated in Congress, the Families First Prevention Services Act, may be delaying foster care vendors from building new residential treatment centers, said Nancy Holman, who heads the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, which represents centers and child placing agencies. It would require accreditation and minimum staffing levels.

“That could be causing people to ... pause in expanding or opening new residentials,” she said. “Residentials are expensive to launch.”

The resignation of Cleveland, a 30-year “lifer” at CPS, comes at a very inauspicious time.

“Melanie has done a terrific job under very trying circumstances,” Crimmins said. “It's a really tough job, but she has been laser-focused on finding the right home for every child in foster care, regardless of the circumstances. In terms of her motivation for leaving, it was a strictly personal decision, nothing else.”

Cleveland’s last day will be July 27, she said in an email last week to her supervisor, CPS director of permanency Camille Gilliam.

“I will continue to pray for you all as you continue to fight the good fight,” she wrote.

In December, U.S. District Court Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi found, among other things, that Texas maintains an “inadequate placement array” in serving foster children. At any given time, the state has between 16,000 and 18,000 children in paid foster care. About 12,000 have been in state care for a year or more.

The lack of capacity is not new. Several years ago, officials and foster care vendors persuaded lawmakers to begin testing “foster care redesign,”which gives a super-contractor in a particular region responsibility for developing the right mix of institutional beds and family foster homes. But it’s had a troubled rollout and is operating only in Tarrant and several nearby counties.

Experts describe a fractious relationship between the department and the contractors on which it relies to house more than 90 percent of foster children. They say the Legislature has resisted increasing reimbursements to providers.

Meanwhile, private vendors can -- and often do -- refuse to accept “bouncers,” children who have been in state care for a long time and are troubled, traumatized and ill. The care for such children is  very costly.

On Feb. 1, the state removed 88 high-needs children -- many of them with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities
from two treatment centers run by Children’s Hope in Lubbock and nearby Levelland. State officials  said they were shoddy, though a lawyer for the owner has disputed that assessment.

Initially, the department had no place to put the children. It spent $1.3 million housing them at shelters in San Antonio, 400 miles away, until treatment center beds or therapeutic foster homes could be found. Matthew Thigpen, a lawyer for Children’s Hope, said the transfers were unwarranted and greatly upset most of the children.

An investigation of the facilities is ongoing, Crimmins said.

Please Make Note

Please make note that I, Jessica Lynn Hepner the creator of What Every Parent Should Know, is not giving legal advice. I am not a lawyer. I am giving you knowledge via first hand experiences.

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Save A Life by Angie Kassabie

Save A Life by Angie Kassabie
I URGE ALL MY FRIENDS TO READ & SHARE THIS; YOU COULD SAVE A LOVED ONES LIFE BY KNOWING THIS SIMPLE INFORMATION!!! Stroke has a new indicator! They say if you forward this to ten people, you stand a chance of saving one life. Will you send this along? Blood Clots/Stroke - They Now Have a Fourth Indicator, the Tongue: During a BBQ, a woman stumbled and took a little fall - she assured everyone that she was fine (they offered to call paramedics) ...she said she had just tripped over a brick because of her new shoes. They got her cleaned up and got her a new plate of food. While she appeared a bit shaken up, Jane went about enjoying herself the rest of the evening. Jane's husband called later telling everyone that his wife had been taken to the hospital - (at 6:00 PM Jane passed away.) She had suffered a stroke at the BBQ. Had they known how to identify the signs of a stroke, perhaps Jane would be with us today. Some don't die. They end up in a helpless, hopeless condition instead. It only takes a minute to read this. A neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke...totally. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours, which is tough. >>RECOGNIZING A STROKE<< Thank God for the sense to remember the '3' steps, STR. Read and Learn! Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions: S *Ask the individual to SMILE. T *Ask the person to TALK and SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently) (i.e. Chicken Soup) R *Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS. If he or she has trouble with ANY ONE of these tasks, call emergency number immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher. New Sign of a Stroke -------- Stick out Your Tongue NOTE: Another 'sign' of a stroke is this: Ask the person to 'stick' out his tongue. If the tongue is 'crooked', if it goes to one side or the other that is also an indication of a stroke. A cardiologist says if everyone who gets this e-mail sends it to 10 people; you can bet that at least one life will be saved. I have done my part. Will you?

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