AUSTIN (KXAN) — An ongoing shortage of foster parents in Texas is leaving foster children sleeping in state offices and hotels.
We first told you about the problems back in June. Hundreds of children slept in state office buildings instead of a real bedroom this year.
In between two-a-day football practices, 17-year-old Riley Pakes is at the Texas Department of Family and Protection Services Office. The teen, soon to be an Eagle Scout, is stepping up to help these children for his Eagle Scout project.
“A while ago I saw a news report done by KXAN, saying kids were having to stay in government offices,” said Pakes. “I can’t imagine having to be relocated to another family and have to stay in these offices, just for a temporary time, having to wait.”
The Veritas Academy High School senior turned his concern into action, making the Rainbow Room a little brighter. It’s where CPS caseworkers can pick up critical resources for foster kids like mattresses, car seats and diapers. The 24/7 Resource Center is operated by Partnerships for Children, a nonprofit organization. All of the items in it are donated by the community.
“Met with [Riley] the first time and told him the issues we’d been facing, the changes happening in the department, and what different options he could do to help us out,” said Marcus Cantu, Business Manager for Partnerships for Children. “He blew it out the water and brought everything I asked for, and more.”
Pakes reached out to the community for donations, collecting blow up mattresses, fresh sheets and toiletries. He put them into bins for the children to use while staying overnight in state offices. The bins have uplifting words on them like hope, inspire and love.
“It’s more convenient for the caseworkers, it’s easier,” said Cantu. “They’re already pressed for time, they’re super overworked, and so being able to run in and grab the kit and run out, will save them some time.”
“A lot of these kids are going from place to place with a garbage bag full of their belongings,” said Riley’s mother, Debbie Pakes. “I believe this provides a little bit of dignity, a little bit of grace to them when they’re having to sleep in these offices.”
Riley has also provided the nonprofit with gift cards and a safe to keep them in. The gift cards are for food and entertainment, so that caseworkers aren’t paying out of their own pocket when they have foster children in their care after hours.
“It honestly feels really good. Even though I’m not going to be able to see them, I know it’s the right thing,” said Riley.
Riley says while this started as his Eagle Project, he plans to continue helping the Rainbow Room long after. He’s fundraising for electronics, books and other items to keep kids entertained while staying in office buildings.
The state has provided funding to put some foster children in hotels, but during the transition many still end up staying a night in state office buildings.
Julie Moody with DFPS stresses that they need more foster parents.
“We simply need more foster homes and foster parents that are trained and willing to care for children who may have behavioral and emotional issues,” Moody said in an email. “It would be a perfect world if we had too many foster homes and not enough abused or neglected children to fill the homes, but sadly that is just not the scenario at this time.”
She says the first step to becoming a foster parent is for people to attend an information meeting, which happen once a month.
For the remainder of August there are information meetings on Tuesday, August 16, 5:30-7 p.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 4007 Valley View Lane Granite Shoals, TExas 78654. And Monday, August 29, 6 p.m. Journey Bible Fellowship 3429 Journey Parkway Leander, Texas 78641.
Pakes is still looking for more donations to help children going through this. You can donate at the Partnerships for Children website here.
In 2012, the Rainbow Room served about 450 foster kids per month, now it’s about 750.