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Federal government stepping in with foster care reform efforts for Texas

 

SAN ANTONIO – The federal government is stepping in to possibly overhaul the Child Protective Services system here in Texas.

In San Antonio alone there were over 8,000 cases of child abuse or neglect being investigated in the last fiscal year.

While CPS continues to investigate those claims – we’ve learned a federal judge is bringing in two experts to study our state’s foster care system and make recommendations.

Those recommendations are expected to include hiring more caseworkers and looking more closely at foster group homes.

“Clearly the foster care system in Texas is broken,” said Rick Cooke, President and CEO of Child Advocates San Antonio.

It is system that needs help and that is what U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled back in December of 2015. Jack noted it has put kids at risk of abuse and neglect due to high caseloads after a lawsuit involving roughly 12,000 children.

“There are over 5,000 kids in the foster care system in Bexar County right now and over 66,000 in the state of Texas it is a tremendous problem,” added Cooke.

Last week – new efforts came from the same judge to reform the system by appointing “special masters” to provide recommendations for change.

“The system needs more assistance we need more case workers, we need more foster families who are willing to take on these kids who have had really terrible trauma,” said Bill Wilkinson, CEO and President of Roy Maas’ Youth Alternatives in San Antonio.

He added that the reform will help shed light on the issue as a whole.

“It is everything from teenage pregnancy control to education to how we are teaching people how to be parents,” said Wilkinson.

CASA also said it will help get more children permanent homes.

“There over 2,500 kids in Bexar County that are stuck in long term foster care,” added Cooke.

We reached out to child protective services – they had no comment at this time because the reform is being litigated.

However, The Attorney General’s Office released this statement: “”The Texas Attorney General’s Office will continue to vigorously defend the law and the state’s foster care program.”

What is next is not clear – but for now – local organizations will keep pushing to give children the care they need.

“We are branching out we are hiring additional staff an investing additional money in supporting these kids that are in long term foster care,” added Cooke.

The two experts are expected to begin work April 1st of this year.

It’s not known how much the reform efforts will cost, or where the money will come from.

If you would like to become an advocate for CASA or volunteer at Roy Maas’ Youth Alternatives – follow the links below.

CASA Website

Roy Maas Youth Alternatives (RMYA)

News 4 Story

Foster Care Changes
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Helping kids who age out of foster system

 

SAN ANTONIO – Right now, nearly 6,000 kids are living in foster care in Bexar County – and a lot of them are about to turn 18.

When they do, they could find themselves homeless. That’s why a local program called Turning Point is helping steer those young adults onto the right path.

At Texas State University, Lauren Tyler-Smith is studying for a social work exam.

“Growing up in foster care, these are the people I want to help,” she says.

Tyler-Smith knows what it’s like to fall through the cracks. She was removed from her mother’s care when her mom chose to stay with an abusive boyfriend.

“He sexually molested me when I was growing up,” Tyler-Smith says.

In the foster system, she bounced through 20 placements in seven years. When she turned 18, Tyler-Smith says she tried to go to college but lost her way.

“I just didn’t show up to class,” she says. “I got into a bad relationship and ended up back in San Antonio.”

Homeless and afraid, she turned to Roy Maas Youth Alternatives‘ Turning Point program.

“I don’t know where I’d be without them,” Tyler-Smith says.

She lived in a house near The Bridge shelter on West Avenue near Basse Road. Her roommates were other kids who aged out of foster care and faced battles.

“These are the kids that will end up draining our system,” Renee Garvens with Roy Maas says. “As they grow up, they become homeless. They will get involved in sex trafficking. They get involved in drug use and become addicts.”

She says the shelter’s program helps kids learn life skills like cooking, budgeting and keeping a job while also getting therapy.

“This is really about breaking the cycle,” Garvens says.

Tyler-Smith credits the program with putting her on the path to higher education and someday, a job where she too can advocate for children.

“Knowing that somebody had that effect on the kids when there are so many bad things about the system, I want to be able to help in a way like that,” she says.

So much of helping these kids depends on the kindness of strangers. Child Protective Services needs volunteers for good, loving foster homes. If you can answer the call, contact case workers at (210) 337-3117.

By EMILY BAUCUM

News 4 Story

Aging Out of Foster Care
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Keeping the Faith: RMYA Residents Share Their Stories

SAN ANTONIO – For about 40 years, Roy Maas Youth Alternatives has been helping children in crisis.

The non-profit has helped thousands, and while their doors are always open, it’s not often we get to hear from the children living inside.

We introduce you to young women who tell us their stories of survival.

“It wasn’t easy growing up with a mother who was a drug dealer and a father who was an in and out alcoholic,” said former foster child Rubi Martinez.

Martinez, 23, never had the chance to have a normal childhood. She had to take care of her younger siblings, until the state put her in a foster home.

“To me it was a blessing being taken away from my mother and never going back with her,” she said.

Just like Rubi, this teenager, who didn’t want to show her face or give her name, was taken away from her sister’s custody after her sister was arrested.

“I went to Macy’s and she got caught stealing,” she said. “I was with her so they took me to juvenile.”

She spent a few days in the juvenile detention center waiting to find out where she would go.

“I just couldn’t go back there,” she said. “The people you hang around have the most effect on you, so if you know that someone’s not good for you, remove yourself from there and that environment.”

Both girls have experienced what most people never have to, and both have found help at Roy Maas Youth Alternatives.

“Bexar County does have a fairly high rate of kids who do come into care and are removed from their homes,” said RMYA executive director Bill Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said some of those children will come to live at the Emergency Bridge Shelter.

“Roy Maas, the originator of the organization, used to say there were three things that were important for people to have: someone to love, something constructive to do with their time, and something to look forward to,” he said. “And so when we work with our children, those are the things we are trying to provide for them.”

Right now, there are 17 kids and teens at The Bridge, but there can be as many as 24. It’s a constant stream of displaced, abused or neglected youth who need stability.

“What we hope to do is to instill a certain amount of resilience in these kids and help them understand that their past is not necessarily a predictor of their future,” Wilkinson said.

Rubi is creating her own path, as she entered into a RMYA program, and while working in the Roy Maas Thrift Store, learned valuable life skills.

“They’ve always told me don’t give up, push yourself to your limits,” she said. “Don’t lose your focus. Keep your faith.”

Keeping the faith – that surviving can turn into thriving.

“All of those things contribute to someone like Rubi, who now sees her experience in the system as a blessing,” Wilkinson said. “She sees it as part of her path.

“I count my blessings not my problems,” she said. “Fight for what you want because nothing is given to you for free.”

Roy Maas Youth Alternative gets about 70 percent of its funding through the state, but still relies on donations and volunteers.

News 4 Story

KeepingTheFaith
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Ways to deal with bullying

SAN ANTONIO — We’ve spent a lot of time this month talking about bullying.

It’s not a new topic. Bullying is a part of growing up in a lot of ways, but it’s more intense these days.

Former Alamo Heights student David Molak killed himself because he was constantly bullied at school and online.

We talked to another teen who has been bullied and a counselor who spends a lot of time talking to children like him and showed us the resources available for parents and kids…

One the Web:

Stopbullying.gov

Apps:

Bully no more

Beat bullying with confidence

Know bullying

News 4 Story

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 1.33.47 PM
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Teen spends every Saturday playing chess with kids at emergency shelter

SAN ANTONIO – It’s a typical Saturday at the Bridge at Roy Maas Youth Alternatives – an emergency shelter for kids ages 5 to 17.

The kids are playing video games, basketball, board games and even chess, but a chess match isn’t something you would have seen one year ago.

“I thought it would be pretty cool if I could teach something like so, then they’d be able to play it even when I’m not there,” Jeremy Saklad, 17, started volunteering at the organization a year ago and teaches kids how to play chess every Saturday.

“It’s fun for me because, you know, I’m playing chess,” he says. “It’s fun for them since they get to learn a new thing. They get to see if they can beat me. And they have by the way.”

Jeremy’s mother Amy says the volunteering has really helped Jeremy, who has Asperger Syndrome, which is characterized by poor social interactions, obsessions and odd speech patterns.

“It’s been really helpful for him as far as confidence,” she says. “Sometimes, when we come, the kids are really looking forward to seeing him. And they’ll already be playing chess or will have taught other kids how to play chess.

Jeremy never misses a Saturday and plans to continue volunteering until he heads off to college in the fall.

“I’ve really loved it,” he says. “I look foward to it every week.”

While chess is the foundation for the relationship, in the end, it’s so much more.

“It’s not just I think that he’s teaching chess,” says Amy. “I think it’s that he’s spending a lot of time with kids. Kids one-on-one which is great for him and also helpful for the other kids.

If you have someone you think we should highlight in our Faces of San Antonio series, send an email to evyramos@news4sanantonio.com. You can also reach Evy through Facebook and Twitter.

News 4 Story

Chess at RMYA
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Help for Families on Mental Health Wellness

Family of David Molak hopes to help others with his story

One week after David Molak, 16, took his own life, the brother of the San Antonio teen is going public to raise awareness on cyber-bullying.

Cliff Molak wrote a viral Facebook post addressing the bullying his brother endured before his death.

In an interview with KENS 5 Sunday morning, Cliff revealed more about what his brother was experiencing and also advocated for changes to Texas law that would help stop bullying.

KENS 5 also reached out to an expert on cyberbullying.

Roy Maas Youth Alternatives has worked with abused and neglected children for 40 years.

The group has also helped children and families effected by bullying. CEO Bill Wilkinson visited the KENS 5 studios to discuss the warning signs parents need to look for.

Kens 5 Story

CEO Bill Wilkinson
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Teenage San Antonio girl makes blankets for children’s shelter

SAN ANTONIO – A young San Antonio woman is the CEO of a non-profit organization that makes blankets for children staying at a local shelter.

13-year-old Samantha Sanchez started “Sam’s Covers” to help children of the “Bridge Emergency Shelter” with Roy Maas’ Youth Alternatives stay warm.

In 2015 alone, she made 180 blankets with the help of her friends. Each blanket is handmade and is made to match the appropriate age group of the children. Children as young as six up to the age of 17 are given blankets to stay warm.

These children have been removed from abusive homes and are still waiting for long-term placement.

If you would like to donate to Sam’s Covers, or need help, you can check out her website at samscovers.com.

News 4 Story

Sam's Covers
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New program offers free pediatric psychiatric care

By Darian Trotter – News 4 San Antonio Facebook

Free psychiatric care is now available for families who need it.

A new program at Roy Maas’ Youth Alternative is now offering evaluations and counseling; and staffers couldn’t be more excited. “I can’t even tell you how excited I am about this program. It’s something San Antonio has needed for such a long time,” said Julia Strentzsch Ph.D

Staffers at Roy Maas’ Youth Alternative are celebrating a new program that is serving area youth. Funded by the United Way of San Antonio the new clinic offers free pediatric psychiatric care for families who need it. “And we have kids who really need care, really need psychiatric help that can’t afford it that can’t get it.”

Roy Maas’ Youth Alternative CEO Bill Wilkinson said, “Right now there are about twelve pediatric psychiatrists in San Antonio, and the wait to see a psychiatrist is between six to nine months typically.” While they wait for more long-term solutions the start-up program allows families in desperate need to get more immediate assessments and follow-up psychiatric care from psychiatric residents from the University of Texas Health Science Center of San Antonio.

“And so this is like a lifeline to alot of families in San Antonio,” Strentzsch said.

National research shows approximately one in five kids between ages 13 to 18 experience some kind of mental disorder at some point; most commonly ADHD, Bipolar or Conduct disorders, Depression, and Anxiety. Services at Roy Maas’ will help young people function better at home and at school. “So if we can get the psychiatric support faster supported by counseling therapy then the home environment stays vital, the school environment stays appropriate, and these kids continue to succeed.”

For more information about clinic and other services visit Roy Maas’ Youth Alternative or call (210) 340-8077.

News 4 Story

RMYA Pediatric Psychiatric Care
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Emergency Shelters at Full Capacity

The Roy Maas’ Youth Alternatives Emergency shelter, “The Bridge,” is at capacity.

“It’s very rare to have this many kids come in this short of a time,” said Renee Garvens, Development Director for Roy Maas Youth Alternatives.

Eighteen children are currently being housed in the shelter, including many referred by Child Protective Services.

“These kids are going through a lot, I mean they are torn from their homes,” Garvens went on to say.

On a day-to-day basis, Garvens says staff doesn’t know which kids will be there. “I know other shelters are experiencing capacity as well.”

Garvens added the reason why shelters are full may be because kids are out of school and there’s less structure.

“Kids have more freedom, parents are more stressed out, and I think that is just the perfect storm,” Garvens went on to say.

The shelter is doing what it can to make sure the kids have an enjoyable summer, and are also looking for sponsors so the kids can go places.

“We have five, six, and seven year olds right now who might wanna go to the Children’s Museum that just opened,” said Garvens.

Roy Mass’ Youth Alternatives also offers counseling to help families in need.
Every child has a story, and every situation is different. While the “The Bridge” is able to keep children safe, Garvens says it doesn’t have to get to this point.

“To be able to get some help and find out what resources are out there for them, if they do feel like they’re at the end of their rope.”

If you’d like more information on counseling services or would like to help sponsor children at “The Bridge,” you can call (210) 340-8077.

Read More at: http://www.news4sanantonio.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/Emergency-Shelter-39-The-Bridge-39-at-full-capacity-148637.shtml

The Bridge
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