State Halts Foster Care Placements With Contractor

Following the drowning of two foster children on Sunday, the Department of Family and Protective Services has halted placements by a state contractor that was responsible for overseeing the children’s care.
Following the drowning of two foster children in Lake Georgetown on Sunday, the Department of Family and Protective Services has placed a temporary hold on foster care placements by a state contractor that was responsible for overseeing the children’s care.
DFPS said on Monday that placements of foster care children with Providence Service Corporation have been temporarily suspended pending an investigation into the death of a 4-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister, who had been placed in a Cedar Park foster home. Officials with Providence could not immediately be reached for comment.
The incident is likely to be met with scrutiny from child advocates who have suggested that the state’s “foster care redesign” initiative, which Providence is spearheading through a pilot program, could be problematic.
“This is an unspeakable tragedy,” DFPS Commissioner John Specia said in a statement. “We will find out exactly what happened and whether or not it could have been prevented. Foster children must be kept safe.”
The state has tasked Providence, which oversees 29 foster children in eight homes in Central Texas, with leading the redesign of the state’s foster care program, which pivots on increasing partnerships with private contractors to streamline the foster care placement process and keep children closer to home when they’re placed with a foster care family.
The redesign process formally began in 2010, though its first contract with Providence took effect in February 2013, according to DFPS.
Through its contract, Providence has received $8.3 million from the state for foster care services, according to DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins. Its contract for 2014 alone is estimated to be worth $30.4 million, and the corporation has a five-year contract with the state.
Opponents of foster care redesign have raised concerns about the oversight of the private contractors, and they have called for the state to examine the program’s outcomes before expanding.
The redesign has already been gradually rolled out in North Texas and West Texas, and the state is gearing up for a wider implementation.
Ashley Harris, a child welfare policy associate with Texans Care for Children, said the state “shouldn’t push further privatization” under the redesign initiative until it establishes better safety standards for children.
"We're still learning the details of this heartbreaking case, but we know that Texas needs stronger statewide standards for screening and training foster parents,” Harris said.
In its review of the department, staffers at the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is charged with identifying inefficiencies at state agencies, also recommended that DFPS further evaluate performance data from its current contractors to better assess the foster care redesign model before implementing it more broadly across the state.
DFPS said it agreed with the directive and was currently evaluating its contractors.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at
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Lawsuit accuses DSS of keeping siblings together in foster homes despite sexual abuse

 By MEG KINNARD  Associated Press

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina's social services agency repeatedly placed a young girl and her brother together in the same foster homes, even though officials knew for years that one was sexually abusing the other, according to a lawsuit filed against the state Department of Social Services and others.
That allegation is part of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the girl, now 19, against DSS, several companies contracted to provide group home foster care, and several employees for grossly negligent supervision.
The case traces back to 1999, when the girl, then 4 years old girl was removed from her mother's South Carolina home along with her 8-year-old brother. The lawsuit says not only did relatives abuse both children but that the boy admitted having sex with his sister.
Despite that disclosure, the suit alleges, the department continued to place the siblings together, in foster homes, group homes and with relatives. The brother's abuse of the sister also continued despite a warning from a therapist in 2001 who had treated the girl to the department that the children had been intimate.
"True to form, DSS continued to attempt to place the children together," the girl's attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
Social Services officials even tried to have the children adopted together, according to the suit, but the girl was ultimately adopted alone in 2003. Her adoptive parents weren't given details about her abuse history and only learned about her past after the girl revealed the abuse during counseling, which her parents sought after she began to act out at home.
In court papers, DSS and the youth homes where the children lived have denied the allegations, saying they could not have anticipated the "alleged intentional and criminal conduct" of the girl's brother. In a statement to The Associated Press, a DSS spokeswoman said the agency works hard to ensure the safety of children in its care.
"There is nothing more important at the Department of Social Services than working to respond to families in crisis and the tragedies that result from abuse and neglect," Marilyn Matheus said. "Making sure our children in foster care are placed with the best foster parents possible and in safe and loving environments will always be one of our top priorities."
The girl subsequently suffered from behavioral problems and had to be confined to residential treatment for a time because her adoptive parents weren't able to control her, according to her attorneys. The agency's attitude toward children's safety ultimately breeds patterns of abuse that can eventually land the children in juvenile detention or jail.
"These children get raped, and they themselves become sexually aggressive," Robert Butcher, one of the girl's attorneys, said in a recent interview with the AP. "It's creating a cycle, and it's creating monsters within. And to compound the problem, they don't provide these children with sexual trauma therapy."
The girl's brother, who remained in the foster care system until he aged out, is currently in jail, accused of molesting another child, Butcher said.
"Although not every foster child becomes a criminal, you do understand that this is a symptom of South Carolina's illness, which is our foster care system," Butcher said.
Kinnard can be reached at

Foster mom bonds out of jail after child left in car at Publix

APOPKA, Fla. —
A foster care parent bonded out of the Orange County Jail Friday morning after police said she left a young child in a car at a Publix grocery store on Thursday.
Apopka police said Monique Williams, 53, left the 15-month-old boy unattended in her vehicle for approximately 20 minutes in the parking lot of the Publix on Rock Springs Road.
"A passerby noticed the child in the car," said Capt. Randy Fernandez with Apopka police.
Investigators said the car was not running and the windows were up.
Williams was taken to the Orange County Jail after being questioned at Apopak police headquarters.
"Why did  you leave a child in the car?" Channel 9 reporter Julie Salomone asked.
"It was a mistake," Williams said as she was being taken to a waiting patrol car. "He was very sick and just a mistake was made that's all."
The foster mother told police the child had an eye infection. Investigators believe it was about 90 degrees inside the car.
"The kid was wet from sweat and the medics were called to check on the child," said Fernandez.
Williams was charged with child neglect and fulfilled a $1,000 bond Friday morning. Officials said the boy has been returned to the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families