AUSTIN, Texas — Growing up in the Texas foster care system is a reality for thousands of children in the state, and a disproportionate number of them are children of color.
Judge Aurora Martinez Jones, with Travis County Civil District Courts, said the ultimate goal for leaders in the child welfare system is to reunite children with their families. And in Austin, they are working hard to achieve that.
"We're pretty lucky in our region. We are very good about seeking out family and making sure we keep our children in foster care connected to their family," she said.
More than 60% of children who enter foster care in Travis County are placed back with family, according to Martinez Jones, who oversees child welfare cases.
However, that still leaves many other children in foster care waiting for a permanent home.
While the system is comprised of children of every age and race, a disproportionate number of children of color, particularly Black children, enter the system.
According to the latest analysis released by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in October, 8% of children in Travis County were Black while 35% were White. Yet, 19% of both Black and white children were removed from their homes this year.
"I think we would be foolish to deny the equity that's in our system and the ways in which our systems are not best serving the kids that are there," she said.
The report also found that Black children are four times more likely to be removed from their homes compared to their white counterparts.
Hispanic children face similar disparities, as they are two times more likely to get removed.
Martinez Jones said things have improved over the years, considering in 2018, Black children were removed 7.8 times more often than white children.
As a judge who fights for children and families every day, Martinez Jones said the work is physically and emotionally taxing for all parties, but worth it if they can find these children homes or reunite them with their families.
Yet, there is still a long way to go in providing children with all the resources and support they need.
A decade-long class-action lawsuit continues to loom over the State for its negligent treatment of children in Texas foster care.
In December, a judge overseeing the lawsuit once again held the State in contempt for failing to meet reforms created to protect children in Texas from neglect and abuse, according to KVUE's partners at the Austin-American Stateman.
COVID-19 has also taken a toll on the homes available for these children. As foster care advocates push for more resources and support, they say there are things people can do to help diminish the disparities and help all children.
"I would say if you have that capacity in your heart and in your home, please take a look at the Heart Gallery," Martinez Jones said.
Michele Freeman, who manages the Heart Gallery of Central Texas, said they are always striving to make adoption efforts equitable for all children.
The Heart Gallery is a program with Partnerships for Children that highlights kids in the foster care system looking for a forever home by taking portraits of them and displaying those portraits alongside their biographies in galleries around the city and online.
"The Heart Gallery strives to make adoption recruitment efforts equitable for all children by actively trying to make sure that in the outreach work we are doing that we diversify the children that we feature and the communities that we partner with for Heart Gallery exhibits so that all the children available for adoption within the Heart Gallery program have equal representation," Freeman said.
The Heart Gallery also works with other organizations in the area to expand their outreach to a wider range of communities and families.
However, their mission is not easy and will take the help of many. Freeman and Martinez Jones urge families to consider opening their homes to adoption or foster care so these children can live normal lives.
Every week, KVUE partners with the Heart Gallery of Central Texas and Partnerships for Children to highlight a child in the Heart Gallery. Watch the segment Thursdays from 5 to 7 a.m. and Saturdays from 7 to 9 a.m. on KVUE Daybreak.
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