AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) – The number of children in the state’s foster care system is at an all-time high. At least 30,000 children and teens across the state need permanent or temporary homes.
The Department of Families and Child Protective Services is pleading with religious leaders to help. State social workers say they are swamped. In the Austin-Travis County area alone, more than 1,600 children and teens are in the system without foster families.
“Children are coming into the system at an alarming rate without the support of the family,” said Val Jackson, a faith-based specialist with the department. “And the reality is our children are broken; and, our families need help. [The agency] can only do so much.”
Social workers are hosting a forum Thursday night with churches, synagogues, and mosques. They believe religious leaders could draw in the best foster parent candidates.
“When a pastor stands up and says listen, ‘for the next several months, or for the next couple of years we want to emphasize children in health care or children in the system;’ I think it puts it on the minds of membership and it helps the church to go that way,” said Austin Baptist Ministers’ Union President Daryl Horton.
Back in June, the agency came under fire for allowing special-needs children to sleep in state office buildings because DFPS didn’t have enough foster homes or rooms in treatment facilities.
Social workers say many churches and houses of faith don’t know about the number of children who need help. And, that one of the most effective ways to get more foster parents involved is when they know other families helping social workers.
“The assumption is that DFPS wants to do it by ourselves, ” Jackson said. “We can’t. We’ve tried that. It does not work. We need someone to step in and help us.”
The forum is open to all faith-based leaders. Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2938 East 13th Street, is hosting the event between 6:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday.