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237 children sleeping in CPS offices as Texas foster care 'capacity crisis' worsens

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 200 children slept in state offices for multiple nights in March of this year as the “capacity crisis” in the Texas foster care system continues to worsen.

According to data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, during February 2020 — before the coronavirus began to spread in Texas communities — 34 children spent two or more nights sleeping in DFPS offices. By March 2021, that number had increased by nearly seven times, with 237 kids sleeping in offices.

Scott Lundy, CEO of Arrow Child and Family Ministries, said he has worked in the child welfare system for three decades. He called 2020 the “most challenging year” of his career.

‘It’s a catastrophe’

In short, there aren’t enough beds to accommodate every child entering the foster care system, and Lundy said it’s reaching the level of a “catastrophe.”

“The capacity crisis that we have right now is the worst that I’ve ever seen,” Lundy said.

A spokesperson for DFPS said providers have been “profoundly affected by the pandemic and more recently by February’s winter storm.” They explained foster care providers have struggled to recruit and train foster families willing to open their homes, while residential treatment centers have faced similar struggles with retaining qualified staff.

According to state data, Texas gained 393 beds for children in Fiscal Year 2020 but lost 540 beds. So far in FY 2021, we’ve already lost 696 beds, while only gaining 112.

“DFPS is constantly working with providers to bring more capacity online, while prioritizing child safety over sheer numbers of beds,” the spokesperson said.

Lundy said, “It takes a long time to build capacity, but you can lose it overnight.”

He and his wife fostered and ultimately adopted three children himself.

“I can’t imagine my kids spending time in an office — sleeping there and eating there,” he said. “There’s no laundry facilities. They are eating out the whole time. There’s not a lot for them to do, and recreation, or things that, that would be normal for a child.”

Federal lawsuit

However, problems in the Texas foster care system began long before the pandemic. A decades-long federal lawsuit has drawn attention to stories of abuse, neglect and mounting caseload sizes.

In 2015, Judge Janis Jack ruled the Texas foster care system was broken and ordered the state to make changes, including around the clock supervision by adults who are awake for foster children in a group setting. Almost five years later, in 2019, it was found that DFPS had not implemented her orders. By September 2020, state officials were again warned that they could be held in contempt of court if reforms weren’t implemented.

Right now, the state is still making changes and dealing with the fallout from the lawsuit.

In fact, at the end of last year DFPS asked the legislature for $ 38 million to comply with the lawsuit. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which is also named in the lawsuit, requested $ 37 million to cover costs over the same period.

Debbie Sceroler, Senior Director for foster care and adoption at Bucker, said the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time, with the foster care system already in this “state of reform.”

She explained that legislation a few years back allowed Texas to transition Community Based Care model, where local communities organize to provide services rather than the traditional model run entirely by the state. Still, the new data shows reforms are slow-moving.

“We’ve always had more children coming into care, than we do families,” she said. “I think awareness is definitely the first thing we need.”

Buckner works to provide temporary homes

Buckner Children and Family Services recruits and licenses foster homes in Texas.

They’ve helped connect foster parents like Buck and Stephanie Baskin with kids in-need of a temporary home, –sometimes even just for a short time while a child’s case is reviewed, before the child is placed back with family or with adoptive parents.

“It is the hardest, best thing we’ve ever done,” Stephanie said, recalling the more than 15 foster children they’ve welcomed into their home in Mesquite over the last 11 years.

“You realize the need that’s there, and you just continue on,” Buck said. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh, y’all are so special. How do you do it?’ We are not special — we just jumped in and did it.”

Buckner also offer provide preventative services through their Family Hope Center, to help families stay together and avoid falling into the foster care system.

At the end of April, after hearing about the increasing numbers of children staying in state offices, they launched a partnership with the state to provide a more home-like environment for more than 30 at-risk children across the state — opening up campus foster cottages in six different cities. Each home will house up to four children and are located in Dallas, Beaumont, Lubbock, Midland, and Mission in the Rio Grande Valley.

“So, basically we provide the facility and oversee the safety of the facility, and CPS resumes responsibility of the children that stay there. This provides them a more home-like environment,” she said, noting it’s a far better option than a state office.

“Food and activities and games and hygiene products and just the ability to be outdoors and be in a home until permanency can be found. This is a temporary solution. We know children will come and go.”

Legislative efforts at long-term solutions

Meanwhile, several efforts at the State Capitol are aimed at providing more long-term solutions and funding.

Kate Murphy, Senior Child Welfare Policy Associate with the group Texans Care for Children, said some of the most important legislative pushes are the ones that work to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act — federal legislation passed in 2018.

“It really shifted a lot of things for state child welfare system,” she explained. “It restructured how the feds are going to pay for foster care, and it opened up new funding for prevention services that can keep kids out of foster care in the first place.”

She explained that several pieces of the 2022-2023 state budget would allocate funding to things like those prevention services, as well as provider rates.

“We know that we need to support foster care providers right now, especially the ones that are doing life-saving work for kids and taking care of our kids. We want to make sure they have the resources to do that well,” Murphy said.

She also mentioned two bills other to watch with “really, really good stuff for kids” — SB 1896 and SB 1575 — both proposed by Senator Lois Kolkhorst.

Still, Murphy thinks Texas needs to have a long-term vision of how to take care of families, rather than focusing on “putting out this fire.” That will take “sustained interest” on behalf of lawmakers.

“We need them to remember that passing the law is just the beginning,” she said.

Who are the children sleeping in offices?

According to DFPS, it has proved more difficult to find placements for older teens who have complex behavioral or psychological needs, and therefore need specialized care.

The number of children without placements began to increase toward the end of 2020 and into 2021 (Graphic and data provided by the Department of Family and Protective Services)

Oftentimes, these children need care in a residential living or treatment facility, which Sceroler said have faced higher levels of scrutiny and increased costs in recent years. Buckner does not operate any of these types of facilities, but their leadership is aware that many are closing.

Lundy echoed that fact, saying some of these closures — and part of the capacity crisis, in general — was due to increased regulation and oversight following the federal lawsuit.

“How do we support these mission-driven organizations at taking care of kids better, and better, and better,” he said, “Instead of just fining them?”

Arrow Child and Family Ministries instead operates a program called Treatment Foster Care, in order to get “highly traumatized, very complex youth” out of residential centers and psych hospitals and into homes. To be a part of the program, one parent must become a member of their clinical team, undergo extensive training and even agree to stay home with the kids involved.

Still, he said they’ve seen the success rate nearly double for children in the program — 73% compared to less than 30% for similar children in a residential facility or other institutionalized environment.

“There’s not a kid’s issue and not a child’s trauma that can’t be healed better in a family,” he said.

Author: Avery Travis
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

‘Horrible’ Weeks Ahead As India’s Virus Catastrophe Worsens

Virus Catastrophe Worsens

NEW DELHI (AP) — COVID-19 infections and deaths are mounting with alarming speed in India with no end in sight to the crisis and a top expert warning that the coming weeks in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people will be “horrible.”

India’s official count of coronavirus cases surpassed 20 million Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000. Staggering as those numbers are, the true figures are believed to be far higher, the undercount an apparent reflection of the troubles in the health care system.

The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.

Infections have surged in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants of the virus as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for Hindu religious festivals and political rallies before state elections.

India’s top health official, Rajesh Bhushan, refused to speculate last month as to why authorities weren’t better prepared. But the cost is clear: People are dying because of shortages of bottled oxygen and hospital beds or because they couldn’t get a COVID-19 test.

India’s official average of newly confirmed cases per day has soared from over 65,000 on April 1 to about 370,000, and deaths per day have officially gone from over 300 to more than 3,000.

On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 357,229 new cases in the past 24 hours and 3,449 deaths from COVID-19.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health in the U.S., said he is concerned that Indian policymakers he has been in contact with believe things will improve in the next few days.

“I’ve been … trying to say to them, `If everything goes very well, things will be horrible for the next several weeks. And it may be much longer,‘” he said.

Jha said the focus needs to be on “classic” public health measures: targeted shutdowns, more testing, universal mask-wearing and avoiding large gatherings.

“That is what’s going to break the back of this surge,” he said.

The death and infection figures are considered unreliable because testing is patchy and reporting incomplete. For example, government guidelines ask Indian states to include suspected COVID-19 cases when recording deaths from the outbreak, but many do not do so.

The U.S., with one-fourth the population of India, has recorded more than 2 1/2 times as many deaths, at around 580,000.

Municipal records for this past Sunday show 1,680 dead in the Indian capital were treated according to the procedures for handing the bodies of those infected with COVID-19. But in the same 24-hour period, only 407 deaths were added to the official toll from New Delhi.

The New Delhi High Court announced it will start punishing government officials if supplies of oxygen allocated to hospitals are not delivered. “Enough is enough,” it said.

The deaths reflect the fragility of India’s health system. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has countered criticism by pointing out that the underfunding of health care has been chronic.

But this was all the more reason for authorities to use the several months when cases in India declined to shore up the system, said Dr. Vineeta Bal of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

“Only a patchwork improvement would’ve been possible,” she said. But the country “didn’t even do that.”

Now authorities are scrambling to make up for lost time. Beds are being added in hospitals, more tests are being done, oxygen is being sent from one corner of the country to another, and manufacturing of the few drugs effective against COVID-19 is being scaled up.

The challenges are steep in states where elections were held and unmasked crowds probably worsened the spread of the virus. The average number of daily infections in West Bengal state has increased by a multiple of 32 to over 17,000 since the balloting began.

“It’s a terrifying crisis,” said Dr. Punyabrata Goon, convener of the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum.

Goon added that the state also needs to hasten immunizations. But the world’s largest maker of vaccines is short of shots — the result of lagging manufacturing and raw material shortages.

Experts are also worried the prices being charged for shots will make it harder for the poor to get vaccinated. On Monday, opposition parties urged the government make vaccinations free to all Indians.

India is vaccinating about 2.1 million people daily, or around 0.15% of its population.

“This is not going to end very soon,” said Dr. Ravi Gupta, a virus expert at the University of Cambridge in England. “And really … the soul of the country is at risk in a way.”

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Author: AP News
This post originally appeared on Snopes.com

Indian Premier League indefinitely suspended by cricket chiefs as country’s Covid-19 crisis worsens

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has been indefinitely suspended after three teams announced confirmed Covid-19 infections among players as the country posted a seven-day average of more than 375,000 cases of the virus.

Sunrisers Hyderabad player Wriddhiman Saha tested positive on Tuesday, prompting the country’s cricket chiefs to announce the suspension of the league after similar instances at the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Chennai Super Kings in recent days.

The spate of infections has led to concerns that the Covid bio-bubble has disintegrated in Ahmedabad and Delhi – two of the cities hosting the Twenty20 tournament, prompting the decision to pull the plug on the competition.

The IPL postponement reflects the worsening crisis in the country, with more than 20 million cases now reported since the start of the pandemic and deaths now numbering more than 220,000 in the country of 1.4 billion people, leading to concerns that India’s healthcare system stands on the verge of total collapse.

Several English players compete in the IPL, including limited overs captain Eoin Morgan, who turns out for the Kolkata Knight Riders. The England Cricket Board (ECB) say that they are awaiting information from the IPL on potentially repatriating their players.

A statement from the IPL said that it will endeavor to return overseas players to their home countries.

English broadcaster Piers Morgan backed the move on social media, writing that it was the “right decision” in what proved to be a divisive comment.

Wrong decision, Piers. At least the tournament gave them some hope in these awful times,” responded one. “Now they have nothing.”

An Indian citizen disagreed, writing that the country’s cricket officials eventually made the correct call.

In India, we think it might be the right decision taken very, very late,” they wrote on Twitter.

It is thought that the genesis of some of the infections can be traced to Knight Riders players who were granted permission to leave the bio-bubble to receive treatment for injuries in hospital via the IPL’s so-called ‘green channel’. 

The Super Kings subsequently returned positive tests which led to the postponement of their game scheduled for Wednesday, before league chiefs postponed the league as a whole.

The Indian Premier League Governing Council (IPL GC) and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in an emergency meeting, have unanimously decided to postpone IPL 2021 season with immediate effect,” the IPL announced.

The BCCI does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and the other participants involved in organising the IPL. This decision was taken keeping the safety, health and wellbeing of all the stakeholders in mind.

These are difficult times, especially in India, and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times. 

The BCCI will do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021.

The BCCI would like to thank all the healthcare workers, state associations, players, support staff, franchises, sponsors, partners and all the service providers who have tried their best to organize IPL 2021, even in these extremely difficult times.”

The decision to postpone the IPL season will likely be met with approval in some quarters, as the decision to push on with the campaign was seen by many as unnecessary given India’s current Covid situation.

The repatriation of overseas players looks set to be an issue all to itself. More than 30 Australian players are involved in the IPL but the country’s Covid-19 laws prohibit entry to the country from India after a bill was passed on Saturday which shuts the borders to its own citizens if they have been in India for 14 days prior to entry.

Failure to observe the law can result in heavy fines and a prison sentence of five years.

The guidelines have proved to be unpopular with Australian citizens connected to the IPL, with one Australian commentator savaging the travel ban on social media.

If our government cared for the safety of Aussies, they would allow us to get home,” he wrote online. “It’s a disgrace.

“Blood on your hands PM [Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison]. How dare you treat us like this? How about you sort out the quarantine system?

“I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect.”
Also on rt.com ‘Stranded’ Aussie IPL cricket stars face jail & fines if they attempt to flee Covid-stricken India

Author: RT
This post originally appeared on RT Sport News

Nikki Grahame dead: Big Brother star dies age 38 after health worsens amid anorexia battle

Big Brother star Nikki Grahame, who rose to fame in the 2006 series, died yesterday just weeks after a GoFundMe page was set up to raise money for private treatment. Her manager said: “It is with immeasurable sadness that Nikki Grahame passed away in the early hours of Friday 9th April 2021. Please respect the privacy of Nikki’s friends and family at this tragic and difficult time.”
The reality star checked into a private hospital to treat her eating disorder last month.

Nikki’s mum Susan discussed her daughter’s health battle on This Morning in March, telling viewers she had been struggling. 

She said: “With Covid, it sounds crazy but stuff like gyms closing impacted her.

“In order for her to eat she needs to know she can exercise, so when they closed it was quite a worry, the isolation as well.

READ MORE: John Humphrys branded Prince Harry ‘sanctimonious, selfish young man’

The reality star rose to fame on Big Brother UK in 2006, in which she finished in fifth place.

Four years later, she became a runner-up to Brian Dowling on Ultimate Big Brother.

Nikki had been open about her battle with anorexia since finding fame on the show.

The star’s condition meant she had spent more time in eating disorder units than at home and school from ages eight to 16.

In 2009, she released her autobiography Dying To Be Thin.

Tributes have flooded in for the late star on social media this evening.

Author Juno Danson wrote: “Nikki Grahame was a reality TV icon and I so dearly wanted her to be well. This is very sad.”

Jedward commented: “Rip Nikki Grahame as fellow Big brother contestants we’ve gone through the same experience and having met you on tv shows! Our heart goes out to your family and friends.”

RuPaul’s Drag Race star Cheryl Hole added: “I had the absolute pleasure of working with Nikki Grahame last year!

“She was an absolute joy, an icon like no other and will be so deeply missed! RIP Nikki.”

If you’re worried about your health or the health of somebody else, you can contact SEED eating disorder support service on 01482 718130 or on their website, https://seedeatingdisorders.org.uk/