Building Capacity for Healing

by Chrystal Smith

A couple weeks ago, we shared some insight into the current child welfare crisis that is growing in Texas. One of the most concerning factors in this crisis is the rapidly escalating number of children without placement. This chart gives an idea of what’s happening:

Where some see a bar chart, we see 282 names, faces, and stories. 282 children navigating intense histories of trauma without consistent caregivers. 282 children without a home. 282 children in need of safe and loving families - many of these children whom we’ve provided shelter to over the past 15 months. 

In 2017 when we launched our first-of-its kind resource center, Oak Haven, we knew that it would be a haven for children in crisis. The vision for the multi-use space came together based on our own first-hand experiences as foster parents and needs expressed from other foster families, biological families, and former and current foster youth. The vision of an inviting, central hub where children and caregivers intersecting with the child welfare system could be met by community support. We needed a place for them to gather necessities for new placements, to connect with trained trauma professionals and support gatherings with other caregivers, and a place where children in crisis could always feel at home and cared for by their community. Back in 2017, we also knew that occasionally children had to sleep in CPS offices while waiting on the search for a home, so we created an MOU with the Department of Child and Family Services (DFPS) to also make this space a more dignified alternative for children waiting on placement, the first of its kind in Texas. Prior to 2020, we would get a handful of calls each year from DFPS asking to bring youth without placement to stay in our home-like setting while they spent a couple of days searching for the best placement for them. 

Much like other things in this world, everything changed in 2020. 

Over the past 15 months CPS has brought dozens and dozens of these children without placement for temporary shelter at our resource center, multiple children staying multiple days almost every day since last April. The needs and numbers of these children took over our entire resource center. Under the supervision of CPS, these children had a home-like environment stocked with food, activities, outdoor space to explore, cozy beds, and therapeutic enrichment activities. We’ve celebrated birthdays, holidays, facilitated sibling reunions and countless other milestones with these children. We’ve also seen the heartbreaking realities of children waiting in limbo while walking through intense trauma. And what has become increasingly clear to us over this past year is that what these children need more than a home-like environment is the consistency and stability that only a family can provide. No amount of home-cooked meals and cozy blankets can fill the gap of missing deep and consistent human connection.

The need was so great this past year that we quite literally moved out of our own space to accommodate the overwhelming influx of children without placements. We let CPS move in and added more beds to make room for just a couple more of the hundreds of kids without homes statewide. We assumed the need was temporary, but as the year went on it became apparent that there is no end in sight for this current crisis. In January of this year, we organized a “think tank” with multiple child welfare stakeholders and have spent countless hours on weekly calls troubleshooting how to help each of these children who have been left without any suitable placement options. We have had meetings with stakeholders at every level and researched what is and isn’t working throughout Texas. Countless child welfare advocates are scrambling to find sustainable options but, sadly, there is no viable quick fix with this crisis.

We also started praying and talking with everyone in our networks and brainstormed every possible option of how to logistically sustain our general operations of fulfilling the urgent requests flooding in for children being placed in homes while also continuing to serve as a place of shelter for the children with nowhere else to go. It’s been clear for some time that more physical space is needed at our resource center. In true “it takes a village” fashion, God has brought an incredible army of skilled volunteers together who have given their time, energy, expertise and resources to expand our space at Oak Haven with the addition of a barndominium on the property. 

Over the past several months, these folks have been jumping through the various hurdles of constructing a building during a pandemic. It’s been on the horizon as a sort of finish line of when we can finally have a functional space to keep up with our daily operations. 

Last month, the foundation was poured and we are anxiously awaiting the next phase of construction.

As the walls are being built for this new space, we are also prayerfully building a higher standard for how we approach this crisis. We know that what these kids really need is families, and those families are going to need intensive support that is easily accessible. If we are not sustaining and retaining quality homes, then we are simply continuing a dysfunctional cycle. We have never been an organization driven by short term bandaids; we are driven by the hope of seeing families overcome generational cycles of adversity for generations to come. And that takes time and thinking outside of the box. 

So we are working toward making this addition a healing haven that supports sustainable solutions. Short term shelter for a small number of kids cannot take the place of the greater need for families. While the main house of our resource center will return to our typical daily operations of Equipping families with critical necessities and support, this new building will be dedicated to Connecting these children with the ongoing therapeutic support that they need to be surrounded by. A place where the caregivers who open their homes to these kids can easily access professionals trained in therapeutic care of children who have experienced intense trauma. A place where specialists in the community can volunteer their time to share their skills free of charge. A place where our team of child welfare professionals can help facilitate family visitations in a trauma-informed environment that allows practice of basic life skills and parenting practices. And a place where we can invite partner organizations to serve this vulnerable population alongside us in a therapeutic capacity that is not currently available. 

Building and sustaining families who have the capacity to care for children from hard places is the best way out of this crisis. And these families will need the community’s support. We look forward to keeping everyone updated on ways the community can get involved. 

One place to start is at our upcoming Connect & Learn info session.

Stay tuned for more updates on the progress of this new space and how we hope to lead the community toward bridging the gaps in our child welfare system. 


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