Contractor serving 1,100 foster children quits

AUSTIN (AP) — The contractor leading a pilot program to overhaul Texas’ troubled foster care system canceled its five-year contract with the state Friday, forcing the Department of Family and Protective Services to take over direct management of about 1,100 foster children.

Providence Service Corp. last February signed a five-year, $30 million deal that included managing 1,100 children in West Texas, the first region selected as part of a redesign of foster services statewide. But the firm is now pulling out.

“The care and services for these foster children will not be affected in any way,” John Specia, commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, said in a statement. “This will be a smooth transition.”

The 17,000-child statewide foster care system has been under scrutiny since seven foster children died of abuse or neglect in fiscal year 2013.

Only one such youngster died this year, but two siblings in foster care, ages 4 and 6, drowned last month in a lake near Austin and the case is still being investigated. Those children were placed in their foster home by Providence Kids, the Arizona-based child-placing company for Providence Service.

In recent years, Texas has moved to privatize its foster care placement efforts. Under the redesign, Providence Service, rather than state officials, was managing other contractors charged with selecting foster homes and providing other services for children within the system.

The Department of Family and Protective Services said the company exercised an opt-out clause after state officials notified it about “several issues” with contract performance, including missing targets on efforts to better place siblings together and keep children close to their existing homes.

Ashley Harris, child welfare policy associate for the advocacy group Texans Care for Children, said, “It should now be clear to everyone that just barreling ahead with further privatization isn’t going to work.”

“We can do some things on the cheap,” Harris said in a statement, “but protecting a child after the state takes custody of her is not one of them.”

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