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Be an advocate for hope: Why and how we must better support vulnerable children and families

The child welfare system in Texas is constantly changing. Federal court rulings and legislation along with findings from state reviews continue to push the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to transform. So how do we begin to fix these mounting challenges? Overall, public and private providers must align for more effective coordination of services and more efficient use of resources, ultimately serving more children and families better.

To affect real, transformative changes, here is where we must start.

Provide better access to trauma training for staff and families. The children we serve often come from hard places and need foster families to be informed of and sensitive to their unique challenges. In order for families to be well-equipped in parenting children with a background of trauma, staff needs to receive the same education. Donor support allows Buckner staff and families more opportunities for and access to training that strengthens their competency in addressing trauma needs of children.

Shift to a family-focused culture. The needs of children and their families have to remain paramount. Buckner is committed to a culture and core values that promote the strengthening of a healthy family unit. Not all cases of maltreatment lead to foster care. With the proper protective measures, key resources, services and support, families can work toward healing without the child being removed from the family home. Right now, agencies like Buckner do not typically have direct involvement with the biological family of a child in Child Protective Services (CPS) care. Working with the full family as a unit through prevention programs similar to Buckner Family Hope Centers and Buckner Family Pathways would improve outcomes as they work toward reunification of the child and biological family. CPS is seeking to embrace these initiatives, considering an enhanced partnership with private providers like Buckner to best serve the interests of children and their families.

Increase financial resources. We must have the funding to serve children well with optimal staff-to-child ratios. Ideally, providers like Buckner would benefit from the ability to effectively manage foster care cases and provide wraparound services (parenting classes, education support, etc.) to not just the child, but to the family as a unit. Children who have experienced trauma and the families who care for them require increased support, training, and development. Proper funding helps providers like Buckner build the necessary infrastructure to support these complex needs

Support foster families. Risk of burn out among foster families is quite high, so families often feel isolated and overwhelmed.  We need communities to rally around and meet the unique needs of these families by providing meals, becoming licensed for respite care, cleaning their house, donating supplies and simply praying for these families. Support from community partners is vital to providing quality care and services to the vulnerable children of Texas.

These ideas might seem overwhelming, but they do not represent pipe dreams. They are feasible outcomes. But we all must step in and do our part to make this reform a reality, advocating for children and families who need hope. Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but we can all step forward in our own capacity, seeking God’s direction in how we can answer the James 1:27 call to advocate for our most vulnerable children.

Samela Macon serves as senior director of domestic foster care for Buckner. She has worked in child welfare for 19 years.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Texas foster care system has been in headlines all over the state. There has been a shortage of foster families and an increase in the number of children removed, which means children are having to spend the night in CPS offices on makeshift beds while they wait for a safe place to go. Buckner is a leading foster care and adoption agency in Texas and as Christians, we feel compelled to respond by bringing awareness to the issues, dispelling stigmas and giving tangible ways for you to help a hurting child who needs a warm bed and loving familySee full coverage of the crisis here.

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