AUSTIN - While often times we hear about the bad things that happen in Texas Foster Care, leaders at the Austin Children’s Shelter said the system can work.
"I was put into to foster care about the time I was maybe 10 or 11," said Melissa Lugo. Her parents died when she was a young girl. She went to live with a family member, who eventually abused her.
In foster care, she bounced around from home to home.
"I lived in a lot of placements, it's pretty bad, I went to so many high schools so many middle schools, I can't even remember all of them," said Lugo.
Eventually a persistent Child Protective Services case worker convinced Lugo to go to Austin Children's Shelter.
"My case worker kept wanting to meet with me and meet with me and I would just avoid him,” said Lugo.
She was 6 months pregnant, with her now 3-year-old daughter Elena.
"They actually helped me with parenting classes, birthing classes," said Lugo.
The shelter provided child care while Lugo got her high school diploma.
"I want people to hear that there are good placements, that there are places that will help you out," said Lugo.
It's cases like this that the Safe Alliance CEO Kelly White said people need to hear.
"It works, it's working," said White.
Currently they team up with CPS on cases.
"CPS works hard with us when the child is coming into the shelter to then help place them into one of our foster homes, so that they can stay with the same therapist, the same people same case workers, they've got their community, they've got those connections," said White.
While Lugo went from home to home, she said that’s something they’re working to stop.
"The system, the child protective system and all of the people are working really hard to stop that, to be able to keep kids within in their home community, to have fewer placements,” said Lugo.
She said it takes a community to come together --- faith based, government, and health agencies -- to help these children.
"Our community, we can wrap our arms around these families and these children and our community can do this, we can help to lift these families up," said White.
White said there’s also a huge need for adoptive and foster parents.
"It's often times for older kids, for kids that have maybe been in multiple placements, have developed some behaviors that may make it harder to ...they're not always going to be the sweet 2 year old who are happy to have mommy and daddy, because this may be a child that's been through awfully terrible stuff and then gone from home to home to home," said White.
White said they work with the children to help them feel comfortable.
"Often times the child that is afraid to go to bed at night there might be a really good reason for that fear, so we honor that, and try to help them get past it and learn that it's going to be safe here to go to bed at night"
It’s something she said is important to these kids.
"The need to connect, they need to know that somebody cares about them," said Lugo.
She also said they're working closely with the Department of Family and Protective Services to implement more preventative measures.
"By the time that somebody has to go into any kind of emergency shelter, they've already experienced horrific things," said Lugo.
Now Lugo is working to be part of the solution. She's taking criminal justice classes, getting all As.
"I like helping people, I feel good about it and I feel like I'm making a difference in someone else life," said Lugo.
It’s a difference, but both Lugo and White agree more work needs to be done. Lugo said caseworkers need help.
"There are some case workers that are good, but they are overloaded with so many cases, and they can't give each case the proper attention that it needs," said Lugo.
She feels case workers want to do more, but don’t have the resources.
"My experience being in foster care, I feel like I got a lot of case workers that I just remembered like talking to them for a little while and then never seeing them again, and no one really stuck and interacted and like "hey how is this going what can we do and things like that and I feel life if maybe if that gets corrected a little bit more or maybe case workers shouldn't have that much of a load," said Lugo.
White said it is an issue of funding.
"This is a system that is desperately underfunded, desperately under resourced," said White. "Those folks at child protective services work unbelievable amount of time."
She agrees, case workers want to be able to do more.
"There are generally good people that are trying to do the right thing, and don't have the resources and the time and the ability to do it," said White.
Saturday evening the Austin Children's Shelter will hold their annual fundraiser gala. White tells KVUE they have to raise 60 percent of their budget from the community to provide core services to making a difference.
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