A recent report highlighted the desperate need for more foster families in rural communities west of San Antonio. Historically, the Department of Family and Protective Services, or DFPS, has struggled to recruit in rural areas — a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

These rural communities surrounding Bexar County are a part of Region 8b, a 27-county region that has fewer than 50 foster families. This region is still state-run and has not transitioned to community-based care, or CBC.

Community-based care is the localization of the Texas foster care system. Under CBC, Texas is divided into 17 regions, each overseen by a local nonprofit responsible for the placement and case management for foster children in its region. The goal is to make the foster care system more responsive to the needs of children by expanding opportunities for people and organizations in their own communities to provide care and achieve better outcomes for these children.

Four areas operate under the CBC model, including Region 8a, encompassing San Antonio and Bexar County.

Region 8a is overseen by Family Tapestry, a division of the Children’s Shelter — a nationally accredited nonprofit that has been serving children in San Antonio and Bexar County since 1901. Since going live with community-based care in February 2019, Family Tapestry has created a network of local partners that has transformed the foster care experience for their communities.

Family Tapestry collaborated with its partners on a three-month intensive foster home recruitment campaign called Foster Hope. The campaign utilized various media platforms, including online, TV and radio advertisements, and livestreamed town halls highlighting CBC and the unique needs of the children in care.

The Foster Hope campaign yielded an impressive 11 percent increase in foster family home capacity.

This increase has contributed to children being placed closer to home. As of the first quarter of the fiscal year, 86 percent of children were placed within 50 miles of their removal address, compared to 75 percent when the region was under the authority of DFPS. Additionally, more children are being placed with their siblings and children are spending more days in foster family homes rather than congregate care settings.

Although CBC is still in its early stages, the regions operating under the model are already outperforming the state-run system in several key areas, providing flexibility for communities to innovate and tailor practices to their unique needs.

Unfortunately, Region 8b may have to wait to see the improvements in foster home capacity that are being achieved in Bexar County. The region was scheduled to come under the CBC model this year, but problems with DFPS’s procurement of the contract has delayed the launch until early 2021. Family Tapestry, which submitted a proposal to expand its services into Region 8b, acknowledged that the strategic, grassroots approach that proved successful in Bexar County is critical for addressing the area’s low foster home capacity and ensuring youth receive the care they need.

As Texas continues to struggle to recruit foster families in rural counties, it is critical the department prioritize expanding CBC to Region 8b and throughout the state to allow communities to collaborate and innovate, rather than keep pushing a one-size-fits-all approach.