Interim CEO addresses Children’s Shelter’s past in order to shine light on its strong foster care programs

Children’s Shelter places children, supports foster families, works on abuse prevention, tends to mental health

SAN ANTONIO – The season of giving is here and our KSAT Community arm coordinates with important local organizations.

This week, the focus is on the Children’s Shelter foster care programs.

While many people remember some turmoil within the nonprofit’s emergency shelters during the pandemic, the foster care programming was never affected.

The Children’s shelter has served Bexar County kids and families for 122 years.

In more recent years, the work has been two-fold:

  • Running emergency shelters
  • Foster placement and family support and trauma prevention programs

Starting in 2020, there were a series of events, including allegations of abuse and neglect, that specifically involved the emergency shelters.

It concluded in late 2021, with the organization ending its emergency shelter contract with the state.

Current interim CEO LaRhesa Moon assumed the role around five months ago, but she’s supported the organization for over 20 years

“I first came to the board in 2003,” Moon said.

To clear the air, we stepped back to those two tough years.

Moon had no part in the day-to-day operations, but said it was a very complex time.

“Both the child welfare system, as well as an unprecedented health crisis with COVID, also complicated by an extreme capacity shortage for children,” Moon said.

Moon believes one specific thing became the main issue.

“When we were trying to take care of the small children and older children on the same campus or in the same facility, and it just doesn’t work well,” she said.

When asked what had changed, it was now a sole focus on the foster care programming that never ended, even during COVID and the shelter disruptions.

“We still serve over 2,000 children annually who have been impacted by neglect and abuse. Whether that’s finding a home for them with a foster family or kinship family, whether it’s helping them overcome the trauma through mental health services,” Moon said.

The organization currently has 64 kids in foster homes and desperately needs more foster families.

“The financial model for the child welfare system in Texas was created over 35 years ago based on a system of 5,000 to 6,000 children. Today, there are over 20,000 children in care,” Moon explained.

That’s why she hopes anyone even considering fostering will contact the Children’s Shelter to see the flexibility and support offered.

“I would say just make the call. You know, we have folks that can tell you about it. We provide formula, bottles, car seats, strollers. We provide transportation, often one of the barriers to people getting the help they need. Even things as simple as a bus pass or an Uber ride makes a significant difference,” Moon said.

While the help is desperately needed, the main piece for all organizations facing the foster care crisis is prevention.

“If we can help sustain that family and with different interventions, then that child never has to enter the system to begin with,” Moon said.

There are three successful programs on the prevention side.

Compadre y Compadre works with fathers directly, providing role models, tools and techniques, training and education.

“One of the most important aspects is that it’s a mentoring program, because there’s peer-to-peer information. ‘I’ve been in your shoes and and let me walk through this journey with you,’” Moon explained.

The second program is called I Parent, which is a free seven-week long parenting class. The program helps parents learn effective ways to relate to their children from birth through adolescence by identifying the purposes of children’s behavior.

The third program is called Nurse Family Partnership.

“It couples a nurse with a pregnant mother, first-time mother and follows mother and child all the way through two years to ensure that they’re on track developmentally, medically, in every way possible and just having that support network,” Moon said.

The programs have been successful, but if children have already experienced trauma, mental health care is necessary.

The Children’s Shelter has a Hope Center dedicated to that mental health care.

“We help children overcome the trauma that they’ve had and understand that from a mental health perspective. But it’s also what breaks the cycle and for the next generation,” Moon said.

All of those programs cost money, which is where donations must come in.

“We have a $14 per child per day shortage just from what the state reimburses. And that’s not even the wraparound services and the additional things that we would like to provide them,” Moon said.

Moon said all donations are welcomed, no matter how big or small. If you want to contribute a smaller amount on a monthly basis you can join the Angel Program.

“So, if it’s difficult at this time, with all the expenses at one time to make a donation, you can support us on an ongoing monthly basis, which for us is actually very helpful because we know if it’s a dollar, $5, or $500 a month, we know that’s coming in on a regular basis,” Moon said.

KSAT is holding a phone bank to collect donations for the Children’s Center and educate the community about these programs.

The phone bank is from noon to 7 p.m. on Wednesday. For more information, click here or visit our KSAT Community page.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.