Following the drowning of two foster children in Lake Georgetown on Sunday, the Department of Family and Protective Services has placed a temporary hold on foster care placements by a state contractor that was responsible for overseeing the children’s care.
DFPS said on Monday that placements of foster care children with Providence Service Corporation have been temporarily suspended pending an investigation into the death of a 4-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister, who had been placed in a Cedar Park foster home. Officials with Providence could not immediately be reached for comment.
The incident is likely to be met with scrutiny from child advocates who have suggested that the state’s “foster care redesign” initiative, which Providence is spearheading through a pilot program, could be problematic.
“This is an unspeakable tragedy,” DFPS Commissioner John Specia said in a statement. “We will find out exactly what happened and whether or not it could have been prevented. Foster children must be kept safe.”
The state has tasked Providence, which oversees 29 foster children in eight homes in Central Texas, with leading the redesign of the state’s foster care program, which pivots on increasing partnerships with private contractors to streamline the foster care placement process and keep children closer to home when they’re placed with a foster care family.
The redesign process formally began in 2010, though its first contract with Providence took effect in February 2013, according to DFPS.
Through its contract, Providence has received $8.3 million from the state for foster care services, according to DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins. Its contract for 2014 alone is estimated to be worth $30.4 million, and the corporation has a five-year contract with the state.
Opponents of foster care redesign have raised concerns about the oversight of the private contractors, and they have called for the state to examine the program’s outcomes before expanding.
The redesign has already been gradually rolled out in North Texas and West Texas, and the state is gearing up for a wider implementation.
Ashley Harris, a child welfare policy associate with Texans Care for Children, said the state “shouldn’t push further privatization” under the redesign initiative until it establishes better safety standards for children.
"We're still learning the details of this heartbreaking case, but we know that Texas needs stronger statewide standards for screening and training foster parents,” Harris said.
In its review of the department, staffers at the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is charged with identifying inefficiencies at state agencies, also recommended that DFPS further evaluate performance data from its current contractors to better assess the foster care redesign model before implementing it more broadly across the state.
DFPS said it agreed with the directive and was currently evaluating its contractors.