The First Lady of Texas, Cecilia Abbott, and the commissioner over the state’s child welfare system, asked faith partners in Texas to help the youth and their families in the system.
The First Lady and the commissioner over the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), Hank Whitman, announced the “Network of Nurture Initiative,” by sending a letter on Friday to the faith leaders. They asked them to join in a partnership with the state agency to help find loving homes for these children and to lend support for youth in the system.
“The new year brings new hope for health, happiness and prosperity, and resolutions to spend more time enjoying friends and most importantly, family,” the letter reads. “While not everyone feels called to foster or adopt a child in need, we are all called to do something for this vulnerable population. As you start planning your programs for the new year, please consider becoming a part of a ‘network of nurture’ that provides support to youth and families in the child welfare system.”
The letter, attached below, tells the faith partners exactly how they and their congregations can help these children and their families.
A statement from Governor Abbott’s office provided that faith partners and their members can help by:
- Surveying members to see how many foster and adoptive families are a part of their congregation that may need support.
- Encouraging members to provide support services to foster and adoptive parents, such as babysitting or providing meals.
- Mentoring an older youth transitioning out of the foster care system through ministries such as The Open Table, a faith-based model that congregations use to create community and transformation.
- Donating diapers, clothing, school supplies, car seats, cribs and beds, or volunteering to help sort items at a CPS Rainbow Room.
- Considering joining the CarePortal or Orphan Care Solutions, online portals that allow congregants to fulfill requests for goods and services requested by a CPS caseworker or family member.
- Participating in Blue Sunday, a national day of prayer for abused and neglected children that is typically held on the last Sunday in April.
“If you feel called to help serve Texas children in foster care and those families fostering children, please contact Felicia Mason-Edwards, Division Administrator for Faith-based programs at DFPS.” She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The letter also attached a list of DFPS faith-based specialists that included information on the areas of how they were serving these children. This way those who wish to help can locate the specialist nearest them.
Prior to Commissioner Whitman taking office, the advisory panel for TDFPS approved new agency rules aimed at preventing deaths of children in CPS foster care. As reported by Breitbart Texas, the Council’s action came after the deaths of two-year-old Alexandria Hill and eleven-month-old Orien Hamilton. Both died of blunt-force head injuries suffered in foster and kinship homes. The homes were approved by child-placing agencies (CPAs) which were licensed by TDFPS. The Department licenses the 220 foster child-placing agencies that recruit, investigate, and train potential foster and kinship parents and monitor the placements once they become caregivers.
The department and the state was also sued in December 2014 in a class-action lawsuit filed by a New York advocacy group called Children’s Rights. About 12,000 children are included in the class-action suit. These children are in long-term care in Texas. In December 2015, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack ordered the State of Texas to enact reforms for its children’s services. The judge noted that the department was underfunded and called the long-term foster care system “broken.” She also noted the frequency of sexual and other abuse, as well as the use of psychotropic medications. The judge appointed two special masters in the spring of 2016 and the case is ongoing.
In April 2016, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Henry “Hank” Whitman as DFPS commissioner saying the “status quo at CPS is unacceptable.” Whitman is a former chief of the Texas Rangers. In early December, the Office of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division announced that it will be partnering with TDFPS to start a new conservatorship pilot project that is hoped to help improve emergency and long-term placements for foster children who have high needs. The project will be financially supported through funds from the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).