BULVERDE, Texas – As the state’s foster care system changes, so do the roles of local organizations.
The state is in the process of privatizing the foster care system. It will still continue to do investigations, but will leave placement and case work to private organizations divided into regions.
SJRC Texas is now one of those main organizations. For 40 years, SJRC was mainly a large residential foster care campus.
While the campus in Bulverde remains operating, a lot has changed in a year.
In 2021, SJRC secured the contract from the state, and in October launched a division called Belong to take on those responsibilities.
They now oversee placement and will eventually oversee case work for 27 counties surrounding Bexar County.
“We’re growing as a staff. Last year at this time we had about 75 staff, now up to about 150 staff, growing toward 300 staff,” said SJRC Texas Executive Director Tara Rousett.
Roussett said SJRC was caring for around 200 children a year, and now that number is around 1,200.
“Our state of Texas is large. The 27 counties that we’re responsible for now is a large geographic area but nothing compared to the state. We have about 1,200 kids in our system in those 27 counties in comparison to a large state of 20-25,000 kids. You can just do more in smaller segments,” Roussett explained.
The rollout is happening in two phases. Phase one is complete.
“That has to do with placement. So when a child is removed from their home in the foster care system, then they come to us and we provide placement. Now, as we’re working into Stage 2, which will launch October of 2022, that’s going to be full-case management,” Rousett said.
SJRC partners with many organizations to do those placements, and the same will happen as they add casework.
While all of that comes to fruition, the residential shelter is still serving at-risk teens, just not as many.
That does not mean there’s less of a need. They just want more kids moving straight in foster families.
“There is a need for residential beds, but it’s serving kids at that higher level. Those younger kids, toddlers, babies, larger sibling groups, really need to be in the community at home,” Roussett said.
She hopes to eventually use the shelter partially for what she calls a “step-down” facility.
“So kids go into psychiatric hospitals in our area, they work really hard and do a great job with our kids, but they’re not ready to go right back into the community, and so focusing on that step down is what we’re looking at the Bulverde campus,” Rousett said.
For other foster children, the focus will be on what’s called community based care.
“National data shows that kids do better if they stay in their home communities and have relationships with family and otherwise. Keeping kids close to home, in safe environments, working on getting them back into their family. Family first, always,” Rousett said.
SJRC reports that kids in foster care are historically two years behind in school because they’re going from place to place. The community-based care plan would keep them closer to home and ultimately at the same schools and activities.
That model doesn’t work without the community’s help.
“We can’t do it alone. We need our providers, we need our churches, we need families to open their heart and their homes to teenagers, to kids who have had a rough go at life, to give them that short-term help,” Rousett explained.
If you’re interested in learning more, or fostering, head to the SJRC Belong website.