The family of a North Texas toddler Amari Boone who died on April 12, 2020 while in kinship care with the Texas foster care system has filed suit against ACH Child & Family Services and its employees involved in Amari’s care while in the custody of State. According to ACH Child & Family Services, this is first lawsuit it has experienced since becoming the first Single Source Continuum Contractor (SSCC) for foster care redesign in the state in 2014.
Community-based Care is the State’s approach to overhauling the traditional foster care system that has been riddled with tragedies, inefficiencies and legal woes for decades. Community-based Care is designed to decentralize foster care services and allow smaller, regional providers the ability to use local knowledge, resources and strengths to improve outcomes for children in foster care. ACH is the regional provider for seven counties surrounding and including Tarrant.
Amari’s death occurred during the initial weeks of the State’s transfer of case management, kinship, and reunification responsibilities to ACH. According to the State, “the SSCC will start by taking responsibility for new cases, while DFPS gradually transitions children with cases that are in progress to the SSCC.”
While ACH utilizes insurance to mitigate its risk in operating and managing child welfare services for the State, it is unclear if that tool also covers the employees named in the suit.
This suit comes at a time some are calling the most challenging year ever for the State’s foster care system. Earlier this year, reports of children sleeping in state offices for multiple nights began popping up all over the state. This was an early symptom to an almost 1,000 bed shortage.
The bed shortage is the result of many factors, not least of which was the global pandemic. Recruitment of new foster homes during the Covid-19 pandemic ground nearly to a halt and because of the timeline involved in recruiting and licensing foster homes, the impact will still be felt for months to come. In addition, some foster care providers have pointed to an exodus of licensed foster homes to higher paying government services, like care for unaccompanied minors from the border.
But the pandemic can’t be blamed for all of the current foster care system woes. The State continues to deal with the impact of a class action lawsuit that resulted in a legal mandate for improvement that the State has yet to reach nor the legislature willing to fully fund.
This confluence of events and circumstances has led to increased scrutiny and unfunded mandates adding further pressures and risk to the nonprofit organizations operating in the system. The Children’s Shelter in San Antonio, recently canceled its own SSCC contract with the State and other providers have just closed citing among other things, liability risks.