To a crowded room of child advocacy professionals and interested parties in Lamar County, Vice President of Arrow Health Solutions Jon Mark McMullen spoke about the latest changes to regional support for displaced children in the Paris Public Library gallery Wednesday afternoon.
The presentation, initiated by CASA for KIDS director Sharon Eubanks, came on the heels of state changes to child support structures. Bringing together individuals ranging from Child Advocacy Center director Rebecca Peevy to United Way director Jenny Wilson, to former police chief Bob Hundley, alongside many individuals from CASA or other child welfare agencies in the area, the event sought firstly to inform the area representatives about the upcoming steps in the process.
The Texas Legislature passed a new system that will take effect in 2023. One agency will contract services for all of Region 4, which spans 23 counties. The nearest office for the organization is in Tyler, Texas, over 100 miles from Paris.
“To keep our children from having to go there for services, they are asking that each one of our communities get together and decide what we need in this area. … The intention of the legislature is that every child in our community that has problems in our community be served by this community,” Eubanks said.
Previously, CASA for KIDS, CPS and the same judges served Lamar, Red River and Delta counties. Eubanks pressed that it was important to keep common sense approaches in place.
Arrow Health Solutions, the only contracting agency to bid for Region 4, will implement a community-based care model, which Eubanks said had begun in Fort Worth and Lubbock three years ago. The only issues in those communities had come from being disconnected from some services due to a lack of communication with key decision makers, agency representatives told Eubanks.
Her desire to make sure representatives from Paris had a voice at Arrow’s table was mirrored by McMullen.
“We’re here to partner. We’re not here to force. We really want to help do what’s best for the job. … This event is good for several reasons. One, to provide and advocate for information and informing a community of what’s going on. Two, bringing the community together and having them understand how we can affect change, and to unify that forward push. … We’ve got to work as one. So that takes being relational and bringing this unified relationship together,” McMullen said.
Followed by introductions from Wilson and Eubanks, the gathered members spoke briefly about programming needs in the community. Attendees and foster parents spoke about the importance of creating parenting and training classes and for having trauma-informed and safe locations in place for kids transitioning into foster care.
McMullen then presented the upcoming plan for the region, explaining what kind of steps would function beside Arrow’s community-based care model. The new model would provide placement services, capacity/network development, community engagement and coordinated services to children in foster care and their families. The care would come from a single source continuum contractor, McMullen said.
The model would also aim to place more children within fifty miles of the place they are originally displaced from. Keeping a child in the same school district and surrounded by familiar faces can reduce the trauma the child experiences and lead to a healthier recovery.
Arrow has six main goals with its community-based care program:
• Increase the number of children and youth placed with siblings in their home communities.
• Increase the number of children and youth who remain in their school of origin.
• Decrease the average time children and youth spend in foster care before achieving positive permanency.
• Decrease the number of moves children and youth experience while in foster care.
• Decrease the duration and intensity of services that children and youth need while in foster care due to improved well-being and behavioral functioning.
• Create robust and sustainable service continuums in communities throughout Texas.
“The changes are going to happen, and if we’re not in on the very bottom, we don’t get a say, and it will just happen without us. And our children deserve to have the input of the people who care about them. We’re going to have to have a committee here and choose one person from that committee to represent us there. That’s the next step,” Eubanks said.