Texas, foster-care providers helped children during Harvey
Posted September 12
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Child Protective Services and its contractors had to evacuate more than 400 foster kids in institutions because of Hurricane Harvey and, probably, hundreds more who lived in foster homes along the Gulf coast, protective services officials said Monday.
The Dallas Morning News reports the state and dozens of its private foster-care providers relocated the children without incident, according to Protective Services Commissioner Henry "Hank" Whitman and Kristene Blackstone, his deputy who runs CPS.
Just as impressively, CPS workers in about 55 affected counties made timely initial checks on nearly 96 percent of youngsters named in child maltreatment tips of the most serious kind between the night of Aug. 24, just before Harvey made landfall, and Monday, Whitman and Blackstone said in an interview.
The 3,000 CPS workers in the region included 76 who were evacuated and unable to return to their homes, Blackstone said.
Yet caseworkers, including many of those who were personally displaced, continued to monitor at-risk children on their radar as well as investigate new cases, Blackstone recounted. Workers shut out of certain areas asked law enforcement for help, she said.
"We were getting to kids as fast as we could," she said.
Whitman, who toured both Corpus Christi and Houston in the storm's aftermath, said he had to tell some CPS workers to stand down and tend to their own families. They were approaching exhaustion, he explained.
"They were working around the clock," he said. "I'm pretty proud of what they did."
In a dramatic intervention, Whitman used his background as a former head of the Texas Rangers and long-time state police trooper to help the state's second-biggest foster-care provider deliver critically needed infant formula to a medically fragile foster child in southeast Texas.
The 2-year-old boy's foster home in Lumberton was surrounded by floodwaters, said Scott Lundy, president and chief executive of Arrow Child & Family Ministries. The child has a severe gastrointestinal disorder, and his supply of a doctor-prescribed formula was about to run out, Lundy said.
The head of Arrow's medical affiliate, Jon Mark McMullen, who lives in the Austin area, obtained some of the formula. On Sept. 1, he searched for hours for boats that would take him to Lumberton. The Coast Guard refused, citing dangerous currents, McMullen said in a written statement. He asked Lundy to use his contacts to acquire a helicopter, and Lundy called Whitman.
Through Rob Messenger, a family friend who runs the Department of Public Safety's Air Command in San Antonio, Whitman arranged for a helicopter to land by McMullen's pickup. It flew the formula to the Lumberton fire department, where the child's foster parents were waiting.
To show appreciation for the interagency cooperation, Whitman said he'll give his department's "Commissioner's Award of Excellence" to Messenger and three other DPS Air Command employees.
"The way community organizations have come together and the way the state has coordinated efforts is remarkable," said Katie Olse, who heads the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, a foster-care providers' group.
Though the storm "is definitely a setback," Olse voiced optimism that the state soon will make big strides toward alleviating a shortage of foster care beds.
Blackstone said Harvey and the subsequent floods it caused should have minimal effects on a foster care system that cares for about 17,000 children at any given time.
Weather events destroyed two residential treatment centers in Houston, she said. We Care Inc., which housed 10 CPS kids, and Have Haven Inc., which had eight, will have to rebuild, she said.
"We've been able to place all those kids elsewhere," Blackstone said.
In Victoria and League City, 35 foster children were evacuated from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health's residential treatment centers to a Baptist encampment in Aquilla, north of Waco, said Gail Atkinson, the national nonprofit human service provider's vice president of operations.
Flood damage will close the League City facility, which cares for 18 children from the Fort Worth region, for at least 14 weeks, she said. The Victoria campus sustained more limited damage, from winds, Atkinson said. It took two weeks to repair, she said.
"They're all back there in their own little beds," she said of the 17 foster children in Victoria.
Major child-placing agencies in Houston said scores of their foster families were displaced. Arrow's Lundy said about 50 of his foster homes were evacuated.
DePelchin Children's Center, the state's fourth-largest child placing agency, had 29 foster families forced out of their homes but most have returned home, a spokeswoman said.
Blackstone said reports of child maltreatment "dropped way down" in number during and after the storm.
But as stress mounts for affected families, CPS expects to receive more reports of abuse and neglect.
DePelchin, which operates programs designed to assist high-risk families to avoid removals of their children, is watching closely.
"The big fear is just that you could have families that were already struggling and now they are flooded — and this could actually increase the number of children that come into care," DePelchin spokeswoman Analisa Warren explained.