in Houston, Texas
Foster care agency that lost tentative contract says problems cited by state have been addressed
Thursday, Aug 23, 2012, 03:29PM CST
By Mike Cronin
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A major Texas foster-care provider has expressed dismay and confusion over the state’s decision to withdraw a tentative contract, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Department of Family and Protective Services officials decided to quash a possible agreement with Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc., after reviewing recent problems at the Austin-based nonprofit’s foster homes including “inappropriate discipline, abuse and neglect, and unsafe environments,” according to the newspaper.

But Lutheran President Betsy Guthrie told the American-Statesman that department officials knew about those problems, and the steps that the nonprofit has taken to remedy them. Lutheran has worked with the state for about two decades.

"We don't want to throw the department under the bus, but I don't understand it," Guthrie told the newspaper.

Patrick Crimmins, the department’s spokesman, said the state conducted an appropriate review and the appropriate result occurred.

"Our view is that the process worked exactly as designed, and it was a process that Lutheran and all bidders agreed to," he told the newspaper.

Lutheran is “the largest provider of children’s residential services in Texas with 455 foster homes caring for more than 791 children daily,” according to its tax filing for 2010, the most recent year available.

Lutheran Social Services has had some high-profile troubles over the past year. In July 2011, Family and Protective Services stopped placing youth at the Nelson Children's Center in Denton, expressing concern that several children were hurt while being restrained. Lutheran closed the center shortly afterward.

In May, a 3-year-old boy in Laredo drowned in his foster family's pool.

Guthrie doesn't dispute the agency has had problems. What she takes issue with, she said, was the fact that Family and Protective Services never talked to Lutheran about the issues, considered the nonprofit's response to them or looked at the current violation trends before pulling the tentative contract.

Lutheran officials initiated more training for staffers and families and cut ties with more than two dozen families the agency thought were not performing well, a  Lutheran Social Services official told the American-Statesman.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850.  Follow him on Twitter @michaelccronon.

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