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News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Partner Perspective

Achieving Service Equity:
Collaborative Efforts in Texas to
Impact Disproportionality

Carolyne Rodriguez
Senior Director, Texas Strategic Consulting
Casey Family Programs, Austin, TX

Children of color are disproportionately represented in child welfare systems across the country, and they suffer disparately poor outcomes as a result. This does not have to happen, as Texas is proving in its efforts to confront the problem.

The Texas work to impact—and ultimately eliminate—disproportionality and improve disparate outcomes for youth in the child welfare system has been expanding at the state level since 2004. The results are promising, as several counties have narrowed the gap between children of color and white children in child welfare.

The Texas Community Engagement Model, originating in the Beaumont-Port Arthur Child Protective Services (CPS) region in the late 1990s, was expanded statewide when Joyce James became assistant commissioner for Texas CPS. This gave Casey Family Programs the opportunity to help spread the model to many Texas communities.

For Casey, reducing disproportionality is essential to safely reducing the number of children in foster care. Casey is the nation’s largest operating foundation whose sole mission is to provide, improve—and ultimately eliminate the need for—foster care. Casey has a long history in Texas, providing direct service to youth and families since 1984 as well as systems improvement and strategic consulting support to the child welfare system since 2002.

The Texas model provides a successful foundation for addressing the systemic problems of disproportionality and disparate outcomes for those most impacted by the lack of service equity. It operates through specific, strategically applied concepts that rely on strong engagement with partners at the community level as well as across numerous systems that serve children and families.

The community-based strategies at the regional and state levels have reduced disproportional child welfare involvement of African Americans, who are most overrepresented in Texas within all stages of CPS service. Findings from the Texas state-level disproportionality evaluation, published in a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) report in March 2010, indicate an overall steady reduction in disparate removals statewide of African American children, relative to Caucasian children, over a four-year period.

Various factors, including the community engagement model efforts, account for a reduction in removal rates where the work originated and has had the longest foothold—counties including Tarrant (Fort Worth), Harris (Houston), Jefferson (Beaumont-Port Arthur) and Travis (Austin).

The Texas model relies on community advisory committees that partner through a co-leadership approach with CPS to lead the disproportionality work in their regions and systems. Casey helped to launch the advisory committees in several regions of the state, assisting with the development of charters to help guide their work, convening systems partners to consider community zip code areas to target the work as well as providing technical assistance as the committees crafted their visions and values. The elevated voices of parents and young people who have experienced the child welfare system firsthand have helped guide the strategies needed for systems improvement.

CASA programs are among the many partners involved in the work in Texas. CASA staff and volunteers are serving on community advisory committees, and Texas CASA is among the members of the Texas Statewide Disproportionality Task Force. They are joining with others to identify opportunities and to define the direction for strategic efforts locally and regionally. Along with DFPS and Casey, Texas CASA is gathering tools, materials and training curricula that can advance proven disproportionality concepts to ensure that all partners are working in concert to address the issue.

Casey’s Knowing Who You Are curriculum, designed with the recognition that youth in care must develop a healthy racial and ethnic identity, provides unique learning experiences for social workers and community stakeholders. The CASA network has embraced this curriculum and incorporated it into its repertoire of approaches with youth and families.

CASA programs have also joined Casey and DFPS in participating in a number of Undoing Racism workshops provided by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. This training focuses on “undoing” the many manifestations of institutional racism that combine with other factors to perpetuate disproportionality.

The Casey-CASA partnership has elevated the need for strategies that use data-driven approaches, develop leadership and accountability, create cross-systems strategies and promote community-based co-leadership efforts. The Texas model (see sidebar at right) also values stories from families and young people, which are always the touchstone that authenticate the work and serve to make the data real.

Together, Casey Family Programs and the CASA network are uniting the strategic use of data with the stories of families to address disproportionality throughout our country. We hope you will join us in helping the child welfare system to continue its progress on this journey.

 Carolyne Rodriguez

Steps and Principles Used in Texas

The Texas model has four interdependent stages defined as follows:

Community Awareness and Engagement—When the problem is made visible, data are shared, the story is told to the community (as well as to its child welfare systems) and a compelling call to action is made.

Community Leadership—When leadership within the organization expands to the community, co-leadership strategies begin to be identified, approaches are defined and guiding principles are embraced.

Community Organization—When guidance from the community, the voice of parents and young people as well as anti-racist principles begin to shape the work. And when community strengths are recognized and inform the response to implement strategies and effect desired outcomes.

Community Accountability—When results and outcomes are clarified and sustainability planning occurs, with accountability to and from the community as a natural response.

As Texas has found, successfully reducing disproportionality and disparities requires a strategic approach that embraces a set of principles:

  • The work must be family-centered. To help children, we must help their families. Constituent voices must inform the work every step of the way—they know best because they have lived the experience of navigating the system.
  • In facilitating this work, a message of hope is critical. There should be a passion for “making history,” a belief that a movement for change can emerge.
  • Community members and partners must be able to participate in meaningful ways so that they will not lose their investment in the movement.
  • Facilitative leaders must convey a belief that things can improve, that things can change and that disproportionality can be impacted.



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