Community-based care is coming to Dallas, but what exactly does that mean for Dallas CASA volunteers and the child victims of abuse and neglect served by the agency’s volunteers?

At its core, community-based care is the privatization of the child welfare system. Instead of working with a Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) caseworker, children and families would be assigned to a caseworker contracted through a private company who would handle all aspects of the case. DFPS would serve as oversight for the contractor. The change is part of a movement the Texas Legislature initially called “foster care redesign,” aimed at addressing a chronically stressed system.

What are the advantages? The Texas Legislature hopes that more child victims of abuse or neglect will remain safe in their placements, that more children will be placed within 50 miles of their home and in the least restrictive environment possible, that more children will be able to remain in their school of origin and maintain connections with their families and siblings, among many other things.

The state of Texas is broken into geographic service regions called “catchment areas” and community-based care rolls out progressively in various catchment areas according to a schedule approved by the legislature. Some areas, like the one including Tarrant County, have already begun the process. Others, like Dallas, are about to move into stage one. In the first stage, the private contractor will take over recruiting and assigning children to foster homes. In stage two, which begins about six months to a year after stage one, the private contractor takes over all case management duties as well as service plans for families.

There have been some challenges as the program has rolled out in other areas of Texas. In San Antonio, the contractor backed out and Child Protective Services had to re-absorb that area. While the hope was that most CPS caseworkers would move to the contractor, statistics are showing only about 50% are willing to leave their seniority and benefits behind to join the private contractor, creating a challenge for continuity of care and case knowledge.

The transition has begun in the Dallas area, with the contractor, EMPOWER, beginning March 1. By fall of 2023, the contractor’s first child placements are expected. EMPOWER’s contract covers Dallas and Collin counties, as well as seven surrounding counties east of Interstate 35.

EMPOWER child welfare collaborative is a four-state, nonprofit network of foster care providers based in Topeka, Kan. Many of the private foster care recruiters in the area will become subcontractors for EMPOWER. Other changes that will come along with the foster care redesign process include the end of a tiered reimbursement system for foster care placements and a “no eject, no reject” policy that contractors must accept all children, with the aim of preventing children from sleeping in CPS offices or hotels.

Four regions have already seen the roll-out of community-based care: Panhandle, Big Country/Texoma, Metroplex West and South Central/Hill Country. The Department of Family and Protective Services also just signed a contract for the Piney Woods region, and a contract for Southeast Texas is expected soon.

What can Dallas CASA volunteers do to make this transition period better?

  • Dallas CASA volunteers can serve as a consistent resource for the case, letting the private contractor know during case transition where the children have been previously placed or providing important historical knowledge of the case.
  • Dallas CASA volunteers can continue to advocate for kinship placements when appropriate.
  • Dallas CASA can serve as a consistent, constant adult for children living in protective care.