There are more than 200 children in Child Protective Services (CPS) care in Nacogdoches County.
Kids taken out of their homes due to the conditions they were living in.
“That’s an all-time high since I’ve been doing this and I’ve been doing this for over seven years now,” said Stephanie Stephens, Nacogdoches Assistant County Attorney.
It’s something that takes officials back upon hearing it out loud.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Ginny Judson, CPS Regional Director. “To have that many children who are in the foster care system means they are separated from their families, it means something really terrible has happened to them and in their family. So it’s really disheartening that that’s where we’re at right now.”
A court order is needed before the children are taken from their homes, except in rare cases where there are exigent circumstances.
When that happens it comes across the desk of the assistant county attorney and all too often it happens for the same reason.
“Probably the majority of the children who’ve been removed are removed from homes where one or more of the parents are using methamphetamines,” said Stephens.
Shortly after intervening CPS looks for a home.
“We try very hard to place children with family members and with people who are in the community so we give them as little disruption as possible,” said Judson.
CPS typically looks for family nearby or fictive kin, or close family friends. The idea is to keep the family together and keep the parents and kids close.
According to Buckner International, children fall behind by six months when moving to a new school.
Keeping the children close to the parents has proven to be mutually beneficial.
“One of the main things is visitation,” said Wendy Robuck, Buckner Adoption & Foster Care Supervisor. “When parents get to see their kids that’s giving them that extra boost so that they can stay on the right track. For kids it gives them that consistency and they know that their parents are still there.”
Unfortunately this doesn’t always work out and they end up in foster care.
CPS tries their hardest to keep siblings together should this be the case but only 44% of siblings have managed to stay together in Nacogdoches County.
This is when groups like Buckner step in.
“When these kids come into care they need somebody to love them, to keep them safe and to help them through that transition,” said Robuck.
But they can’t do it alone.
While there are other foster families, Buckner only has 10 foster families in Nacogdoches County
“We don’t have nearly enough foster homes, I don’t know what we would do without grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles,” said Judson. “Because they take the bulk of the weight off of us in terms of placing children.”
Groups like Buckner are always looking for more foster parents.
“These kids are worth it they just need somebody to step up and to love them and support them because, you know, they didn’t ask for it,” said Robuck.
While the children are under CPS care, the parents have up to a year to improve their situation.
Once a child has been removed from a home there will be a court hearing within two weeks for the parents to come to court.
The parents will have the option to agree to terms given by the court and work to have their children returned.
Then a service plan is generated of what the parents need to accomplish to get the children back into the home.
Periodic hearings will be held for the judge to check the parent’s progress and the state gives the county up to a year to make a decision to reunite the family or terminate the parental rights.
“Our goal is to reunite families and put families back together,” said Stephens. “The Majority of our parents are successful and get their children back. It may be a rough road but it’s a great thing to see parents overcome whatever obstacles caused their children to be removed and put this family back together.”
Nacogdoches County isn’t the only Deep East Texas county with a high number of children under CPS protection.
To the south, Angelina County has 223 children in the same situation.