AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott recently hosted the Governor’s Commission for Women for a Heart Gallery of Texas portrait viewing in Austin, according to the office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, as well as for a discussion in support of foster and adoptive children and families in the state.

Heart Galleries have been established in 11 regions across the state of Texas, according to the Governor’s Office, in coordination with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The galleries display professional portraits in local communities of children searching for a “forever family,” in order to promote foster and adoption opportunities. Alongside the displays, the galleries are paired with weekly local news segments to connect families interested in adoption with children in the care of DFPS and Child Protective Services.

“As adoptive parents, the Governor and I know firsthand the immeasurable joy of being a forever family,” Cecilia Abbott said. “That is why we believe so strongly in promoting adoption. Every child deserves to live a life of immense opportunity, but supporting foster and adoptive children and families is a bigger job than state government can do alone. It requires a Network of Nurture ― a community of individuals and families, friends, local leaders, nonprofit organizations, businesses, faith community members, and anyone willing to open their hands, their hearts, or their homes to children and families in need of permanence.”

In recognition of Foster Care Month in May, MyHighPlains.com compiled an overview of adoption and foster care in Texas, as well as resources for those interested in becoming adoptive or fostering households.

What are the numbers?

According to the Texas DFPS as of August 31, 2021, there were over 5,900 children across the state waiting on adoption. Those children were described by the department as up for adoption because a court had terminated all parental rights, the child had a plan of adoption, and/or the child was not in adoptive placement at the time of the data being collected.

Some of the most current statistics presented by the Texas DFPS dashboard appeared to improve overall compared to the last fiscal year. For example, the daily caseload average for each caseworker was noted at 14.7 for the Fiscal Year 2022, whereas it was 15.7 for 2021. Further, the number of children who left the system rose to 92.3% from 91.5% in 2021.

However, the department’s dashboard also reported that the number of abuse and neglect investigations increased compared to the previous fiscal year, as well as an upward trend in the amount of time children spend in the foster care system before reaching a state of permanency.

Adoption and aging in the Texas foster care system

According to studies such as from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 40% of all children adopted from foster care in the United States began living with their adoptive families at nine years of age or younger. Around 56% of foster children were five years of age or younger at the time where the adoption became final.

The Texas DFPS also reported that on average, 1,200 youth age out of the Texas foster care system each year. Further, noted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in a published 2018 study, around 17% of Texas’ foster care population occupies an age range of 14 years old or older. Further 63% of the Texas youth who left the foster care system aged out of it instead of entering into a permanent, legal connection to a family.

According to the AECF’s published report, Texas youth who aged out of foster care appeared to have generally more disadvantaged outcomes than compared to the state’s general population. 48% of aged-out youth reported full or part-time employment by age 21 compared to 62% of the general Texas population, and 73% reported having a high school diploma or GED compared to the general Texas population’s 90%.

“Research shows that young adults who experienced foster care have worse outcomes than their peers in the general population across a variety of spectrums,” argued the AECF’s publication, “from education to employment to housing to early parenthood.”

One such program aimed to avoid worse outcomes in Texas, as described by DFPS, is the Preparation for Adult Living program. Implemented in 1986, the Texas DFPS said that the PAL program was made to assist older youth in substitute care in gaining skills and resources needed to be healthy, productive adults.

However, while transition services exist with the intent to help young people in foster care move into adulthood, AECF noted that only 20% of eligible Texas youth participated in federally funded services for education and only 9% participated for room and board assistance.

Through adoption, as argued by AdoptUsKids.org, older children are connected to a family that can provide a sense of stability, lasting connections, and guidance with important life tasks—including enrolling in higher education, finding stable housing, securing employment, and establishing healthy relationships.

Qualifying for adoption or fostering in Texas

Although eligibility requirements vary between states and territories and individual agencies, the state of Texas’ licensing requirements for fostering or adopting include that a person must:

  • Be at least 21 years of age, financially stable and responsible, and a mature adult.
  • Complete an application.
  • Share information regarding their background and lifestyle.
  • Provide relative and non-relative references.
  • Be single, married, widowed, or divorced.
  • Agree to a home study which includes visits with all household members and inspection of all parts of the home, grounds, and outbuildings.
  • Allow staff to complete a criminal history background check and an abuse/neglect check on all adults in the household. (Adults are people age 14 and older who live in or visit a household regularly.)
  • Attend free training to learn about issues of abused and neglected children.

The Texas DFPS noted that additional foster care requirements for families include that those foster parents must:

  • Have adequate sleeping space.
  • Allow no more than six children in the home, including their own children or for whom they provide day-care.
  • Agree to a non-physical discipline policy.
  • Permit fire, health, and safety inspections of their home.
  • Vaccinate all pets.
  • Obtain and maintain CPR/First Aid Certifications.
  • Obtain TB testing as required by the local health department for all household members.
  • Attend 20 hours or more of training each year.

Regarding costs, AdoptUsKids.org noted that families may pay for some services including criminal background checks, home inspections, CPR, TB testing, and other aspects of the application and fostering process. However, a range of adoption assistance programs is available across the United States and Texas for eligible families.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway published additional resources regarding pathways to adoption, including databases and further detailed information regarding the adoption process, adopting for certain family types, adoption costs, support and services, and parenting after adoption.

Fostering and Adopting in Amarillo

Potter and Randall counties both host a number of child-placing agencies in the Amarillo area, alongside other pathways to fostering and adoption that are available for interested households throughout the state.

Potter County child-placing agencies:

Randall County child-placing agencies:

Further, the Heart Gallery of the High Plains has remained active in its efforts to connect children and families and promote connections through the foster care system.

For those who would like to be involved in advocacy for children in the foster care system around the local region, Amarillo CASA announced that it is continuing to search for volunteers. The organization said it is looking for individuals that can offer between five and 10 hours to a child each month to provide guidance and support from their local community members.

“CASA currently has 37 children who have been waiting for a significant amount of time to receive their own volunteer,” said CASA representatives, who hope to fill those volunteer spaces within the next month.

Those interested in becoming a volunteer, said representatives, can attend a CASA training in June. Each training will be from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on June 6, 9, and 16. More information and sign-up opportunities can be found by reaching out to CASA’s Recruitment and Training Director, Doug Hathcock, at doug@amarillocasa.org.