LLANO — During one of her times in court as Llano County attorney, Rebecca Lange heard someone mention that there was only one Child Protective System-approved foster family in Llano.
“Well, I thought, Llano is still a small town, Llano County is still larger and we have all these other communities,” Lange said.
But after hearing the statistic mentioned again, she pressed a bit and learned it’s not just one foster family in Llano — it’s one foster family in the entire county.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I thought surely with Horseshoe Bay and Kingsland, there had to be more. But there wasn’t.”
And the lone Llano County foster family isn’t even a husband and wife, it’s a single individual.
That revelation painted a stark picture of the foster care situation in not only Llano County but across the Highland Lakes. Whenever CPS steps in and removes a child from a home, officials must place him or her in safe and qualified care. More often than not, this means removing children from the community and school they know so well and placing them in other counties — even a hundred miles or more away.
“It’s a tough situation for the kids,” said Guilford Jones, a retired state district judge who served in Llano and Burnet counties. “If a child is removed in Llano, if you don’t have certified care available, the first stop then is emergency care, and CPS begins making calls to see if there’s anybody in the family who can take the child in. This could take a week. And if there isn’t anybody, then the child may end up being uprooted from their school and the place they feel comfortable and placed in another town or county. It’s tough on the kids. It’s tough on the people trying to help the kids.”
A mission of the Marble Falls Daybreak Rotary is to spread the word about the need for foster families in the Highland Lakes. On Nov. 15, the club is hosting the second annual Daybreak Rotary Adoption Day at the Burnet County Courthouse Annex, 1701 E. Polk St. (Texas 29) in Burnet. The event is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and will include several official adoptions.
At 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., CPS and Department of Family Services officials will hold introductory programs about getting involved in foster care and adopting children. The idea, Jones said, is to let people hear what it’s all about and hopefully encourage a few to start the process of fostering children — or adopting them.
“There’s a tremendous need in this community for foster families,” he said.
On the surface, it might not sound like a big deal if a child gets placed in a different community as long as they’re in approved foster care. But Lange said this upheaval hurts on several fronts, including, first of all, the child. He or she is already going through an incredibly stressful time after being removed from home. Now, the child (or children because often it’s a group of siblings) faces an entirely new school setting and other challenges.
“The No. 1 goal of the state is reunification (of child and parents),” Lange explained. “But it’s hard to reunify if there’s such a geographic obstacle. And that’s on top of all the other problems and challenges.”
During the reunification process, several people need to meet with the child on a regular basis including the CPS caseworker and the Court Appointed Special Advocate, who reports to the court about how the child is doing. The CPS caseworker likely makes monthly visits with the child, while the CASA volunteer prefers more frequent visits.
“Eventually, if the mother is doing her program and getting her stuff together, she may also get visitation,” Jones said. “And if the father is in the picture, he may also get visitations.”
But if the child is placed in another county, the distance can hamper visits and access. Jones pointed out that the parents in these cases often don’t have reliable — if any — transportation, so even a trip to Georgetown or Austin becomes problematic.
The key, Lange said, is getting more foster families in Burnet and Llano counties.
“There’s a need out there, a huge need,” she said. “We’re not asking people to sign up to be foster parents, but just come out and learn something about it. It’s a start.”
The Daybreak Rotary Club also offers a speaker bureau for groups or churches interested in having someone attend a meeting to offer information on the topic.
Contact Eddie Arredondo at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jones at email@example.com for more information on the speaker bureau, foster care or the adoption day.