Children’s Health on Monday gathered some of the state’s highest ranking political officials to celebrate the opening of a $20 million center specifically for meeting the needs of the state’s ever-expanding foster children population.
Funded with a $19 million gift from the Rees-Jones Foundation (the largest gift by a living donor in Children’s Health’s history), the center was designed in order to facilitate an effective medical home for these vulnerable children, as many as 80 percent of whom have one or more complex medical needs. The Meadows Foundation also added a $1 million gift. The idea for the center stretches back to 2011, three years after the arrival of Dr. Ann Partap, the forward-thinking pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. She’s the director of the foster care center, and said Monday afternoon that it became immediately apparent that Texas needed an integrated program for the children in foster care.
The center will merge resources from the Texas Child Protective Services, Court Appointed Special Advocates, foster parents, courts, and health professionals. It has been created around providing early intensive treatment, continuous support, and safe medical transitions—three aspects that Partap says were major stress points in the existing delivery system. Seven years ago, she said, Children’s had three exam rooms and three clinicians. The new center means Children’s now has two campuses, 13 exam rooms, 10 therapy rooms, 10 private interview rooms, two offices for CPS, three training rooms, and 25 providers who offer about 4,000 annual visits.
The center itself is more than 15,000 square feet.
“Our team has had the rare opportunity to share what we’ve learned at the bedside to see how it might help statewide,” Partap said. “I am confident what we have done here is replicable across the state.”
The Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence opens at a critical time. There are currently more than 46,000 foster children in the state. And a rash of controversies brought about by a backlog of more than 2,000 endangered children resulted in the naming of a new director and the replacement of four of 10 of the department’s regional directors, who were made to apply for their jobs.
Last week, the Texas Legislature approved $150 million in emergency funding to sail into the Department of Family and Protective Services to hire 829 new caseworkers and give $12,000 raises to the ones already working. That money is pending approval from the Legislative Budget Board. In October, state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, proclaimed in a committee meeting that the agency had spent years in a “constant state of crisis,” according to this Texas Tribune report.
Partap, if a bit more diplomatically, suggested much of the same as it came to healthcare for these kids. It simply wasn’t integrated. And so many social, medical, and parental challenges intersect. As recalled by state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, and his wife, Michelle, the paperwork required by the state of foster parents is uniquely difficult. The Sheets family became foster parents after they learned they could not have a child, the two recalled.
“We are a family that has benefitted from the predecessor of this building,” Kenneth Sheets said. “Michelle and I were so fortunate to hear from a friend about this clinic and what Dr. Partap is doing. Our kids were treated with respect and the medical staff understood the demanding and sometimes confusing documentation that’s required by CPS. They printed everything they needed, so we could just pass it along in our weekly documentation. … you never know when you’re going to get inspected.”
Which makes a center like Children’s so important, the speakers argued. The model is unique—the scope of which is not found elsewhere in the state.
“Not all of the answers to the challenges we face come from Austin, Texas or places like Washington D.C.,” said Gov. Abbott. “I have found that often the very best answers come from our local philanthropists. From our churches. From our innovators. From our healthcare professionals. Applying it to this context, it is those roots that help us recruit the foster families and adoptive families and work to provide those families with better tools to help be successful in transforming those children into effective adults.”