Archive for the ‘Foster Care’ Category



amplified-Join LSS to amp up the excitement, amp up the participation and amp up the giving!

Amplify Austin is our community’s day of giving. It begins this Thursday, March 5, at 6 p.m., and ends Friday, March 6, at 6 p.m. This year, LSS has a goal to raise $45,000 for BeREAL Austin, a Supervised Independent Living Program of LSS, which will provide residence, mentorship and hope to seven young adults for a full year.


We’re having an Amplify Austin LAUNCH PARTY to kick things off:

Thursday March 5 | 5:30 – 10 p.m. (Rain or Shine)

Little Barrel and Brown | 1716 South Congress Ave.

The first round, appetizers and small plate buffet are on us!

BeREAL [Read Educated Accomplished Leaders] Austin, which opened in September 2014, helps foster youth successfully transition to self-sufficiency and independence by providing Supervised Independent Living as they age out of care. LSS’ BeREAL program, in coordination with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), was first established in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2009.

BeREAL Austin offers:• housing placements in apartments and host homes• direct assistance for food, clothing, transportation and cell phones• case management• household setup (furniture and supplies)• life skills development opportunities• mentoring and permanent connections to caring adults While at BeREAL, a young adult is expected to:• manage their finances – purchase groceries and personal items• establish key relationships• identify and accomplish education and employment goals• utilize community resources• attend life skills training• transition to unsupervised independent living

BeREAL Austin operates in conjunction with the State of Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). After state reimbursement, the BeREAL program costs approximately $540 per participant per month, or about $6,500 annually.

Participating in Amplify Austin is easy:

  1. Give a gift. Starting on Thursday, March 5 at 6 p.m. until Friday, March 6 at 6 p.m., go to our Amplify Austin profile and make a donation. Give early and give often!
  2. Be a fundraiser. Create your very own fundraising campaign page on the Amplify Austin website and ask your friends to join you in supporting LSS’ BeREAL Austin.  For more information and help setting up your page, contact Mike Nevergall at [email protected].
  3. Pre-schedule your gift. Going to be away from your computer on the day of the event? Afraid you’ll forget to give? Worry no more! You can pre-schedule your gift today and it will be processed on event day.
  4. Be social. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and help us spread the word about #AmplifyATX.



Funded Call for White Papers: Deadline Friday, March 6

whitepapersLutheran Social Services (LSS) is on a mission with a new mission: to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities. With our attention and resources focused on developing a new continuum framework that will drive transformative change, we are developing innovative programs, new partnerships and an expanding network of community services – but we cannot do it alone and need your help.

LSS has released a funded call for white papers and is seeking evidence from Texas, and the rest of the world, on best practices for building protective factors for children in the child welfare system in specified areas. If you, or someone you know, might also be interested, please contact us.


Basic Submission Facts

White Paper Proposals should be:

  • one page in length
  • in a PDF format
  • submitted by Friday, March 6 to Amy Knop-Narbutis.

Please be sure to identify the topic, the research team and requested funding (ballpark $2,000-$4,000 per paper; requested funding level will influence selection.)

Potential topics should align with best practices in programming for children in the child welfare system in education, health, life skills, safety and vocation, or feedback on the overall prevention model. The research team may include (but is not restricted to):

  • Professors
  • Graduate students
  • Professional researchers
  • Practitioners

The emphasis should be on protective factors for children currently in the child welfare system. Case studies from Texas and other states, cost-benefit analyses of preventative measures and proposals for building the evidence base for promising programs, are all welcome.

Example topics:

  1. What promising and evidence-based health initiatives can build protective factors and help prevent child maltreatment in future generations?
  2. What promising and evidence-based education initiatives can build protective factors and help prevent child maltreatment in future generations?
  3. What promising and evidence-based safety initiatives can build protective factors and help prevent child maltreatment in future generations?
  4. For a complete list of topics, click here.

Please note: final white papers can be no longer than 10 pages, including graphics and references.




March 6 – Deadline for one-page proposals for white papersApril – Funding assigned and research partners publicly announcedJune – Submission deadline for Wave 1 of papers

September – Submission deadline for Wave 2 of papers

December – Submission deadline for Wave 3 of papers

March – Conference in Austin, TX to share findings (TBA)

For additional details, please visit our website. Questions should be emailed to Amy Knop-Narbutis, LSS Research Analyst.


Laredo News: Zeke Finds his Forever Family


laredo zeke

“Another adoption … another blessing!” exclaimed Oscar Guerra, Foster In Texas (FIT) area director for  Laredo’s office.

Staff from FIT Laredo, including Oscar and Guadalupe Martinez, Foster Social Worker, were present at a recent consummation ceremony for Ezequiel Ortiz (nicknamed Zeke) when he was adopted by his foster mom Anabel Ortiz. Child Protective Services workers, as well as family members, joined the celebration on this joyous day.

Ms. Ortiz has been a foster parent for 13 years and was thrilled to fulfill her dream of adopting three-year-old Zeke. She is pictured with her two biological sons James (15) and Javier (13), and Judge Becky Palomo.

Another happy ending for the Laredo foster care and adoption program!

More than 2,000 Texas children depend on us every year to provide safe, loving foster homes. Answer the call – contact one of our 14 local foster offices today. Foster In Texas is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South.



LSS and the Child Protection Roundtable

Group of businesspeople having a meeting.[by Knox Kimberly, LSS Vice President – Government and Corporate Relations]

With the ceremonial aspects of the changes in state government now complete, the substantive work of the Texas Legislature is getting underway.  In this post, I want to highlight the fact that legislative advocacy is a team pursuit.  In these endeavors, we are proud to join our voices with those of other leading child advocacy organizations across our great state.

LSS is an active participant in the Child Protection Roundtable, an informal body formed a number of years ago to help child advocates speak with one voice as much as possible.  The group was created and is facilitated by TexProtects, based in Dallas.  TexProtects is a strong voice for child protection and focuses on improving the child protective services system, advancing prevention and early intervention programs, and providing pertinent research to inform state policymakers and stakeholders.

We are very honored to have been welcomed to the Roundtable and to associate our organization with TexProtects and these other active participants in the Child Protection Roundtable:

  • Texans Care for Children is a policy advocacy organization that focuses on what is best for Texas children in five areas – child protective services, juvenile justice, mental wellness, health and fitness and early childhood education and opportunities.
  • One Voice Texas is a Houston-based collaborative for health and human services, working to assure that the needs of all Texans are addressed through education/awareness, program development, advocacy, regulation and funding.
  • Texas CASA is the statewide coordinating organization for the more than 70 local chapters that recruit and train volunteer court-appointed special advocates to work with children in foster care.
  • CACTX is the statewide coordinating organization for the nearly 70 local children’s advocacy centers serving children entering the justice system as the result of suspected sexual abuse, severe physical abuse or witnessing a violent crime.
  • NASW-TX is the statewide organization representing the state’s professional social workers by advancing social work practice and the profession and promoting unimpeded access to services for everyone in need.
  • Mental Health America – Texas is the state’s largest and longest serving mental health education and advocacy group, and administers the “Parents as Teachers” prevention and early intervention program.

As we move forward with The New LSS, we recognize that acting alone we can only move the needle so far.  Working with others as a cohesive unit greatly improves our chances for achieving measurable forward progress toward achieving our new mission.

These outstanding organizations and their leaders deserve the thanks and support of all who are involved in the great cause of promoting child well-being in Texas.

In the weeks ahead, we will begin to explore some of the policy issues that will be debated at the Capitol over the weeks ahead. In the meantime, if you have not already done so, please be sure to sign up at to join our journey!


BeREAL Austin: Awarded $35,000 Wheat Ridge GrantsPlus Grant





Wheat Ridge Ministries recently selected BeREAL [Ready Educated Accomplished Leaders] Austin, a Supervised Independent Living program of Lutheran Social Services of the South, to receive a $35,000 grant to “assist inspired leaders who are serving others and sharing health and hope around the world.” Wheat Ridge’s GrantsPlus Program supports new and innovative health and human care programs led by congregations and nonprofit organizations affiliated with the Lutheran community. Grants range from $5,000 to $50,000 over two to three years.

Imagine turning 18 and being ejected from your home with no family, few resources and nowhere to turn.  That’s exactly the case for 1,328 young adults in Texas aging out of foster care every year. They often find themselves homeless and lacking the education, job and life skills required to embrace careers and adulthood to the best of their abilities. BeREAL Austin helps foster youth successfully transition to self-sufficiency and independence by providing Supervised Independent Living as they age out of care. LSS’ BeREAL program, in coordination with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), was first established in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2009.

Wheat Ridge’s grant will help subsidize housing costs for foster youth, along with providing direct assistance for food, clothing, transportation and furniture and household supplies. In addition, life skills development, case management and mentoring are important components of BeREAL Austin and require ongoing financial support.

“Study after study shows that teens aging out of the foster care system are among the most at-risk adults in our society,” said Sarah Crocker, Transitional Services Program Director of BeREAL Austin.

“We are so grateful for the Grantsplus Grant and support of Wheat Ridge Ministries to carry out BeREAL’s mission.”

Learn more about BeREAL Austin. You can also contact Sarah Crocker for more information: 512.704.5326; [email protected].

Bereal WR_LogoAbout Wheat Ridge Ministries:

Wheat Ridge Ministries is a nonprofit organization that helps health and human care initiatives get off the ground by providing the initial funding and support they need to thrive. Wheat Ridge has a special interest in nurturing new health and human care ministries developed by local congregations and new faith-based organizations and initiatives.


Update on LSS Border Programs & Initiatives

ORR kidsELCA’S ASSISTANCE FOR UNACCOMPANIED MINORS  [parts of this story are excerpted from]

Background on LSS ORR programs:

LSS has provided emergency shelter for hundreds of unaccompanied children in South Texas since 2006, at Bokenkamp Emergency Shelter in Corpus Christi and our foster care program in El Paso. These children are termed “unaccompanied” because they cross the border without parents or legal guardians, although the majority do have family in the U.S. and are coming to join them. These minors are escaping situations in their own countries that include civil wars, extreme poverty, and pervasive gang violence.

Rather than being deported like children from Mexico—who cross in the same numbers and for similar reasons—Central American minors are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which holds them in designated facilities and provides them with services while locating and investigating the whereabouts of their family members.

This past spring and summer, the news of unprecedented numbers of children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala crossing the U.S. border was reported as a “surge” and a “crisis” and indeed, the demand for our services was urgent and pressing. In response, LSS’ ORR resettlement programs expanded dramatically to include New Hope Emergency Shelter in McAllen and ORR foster care in Corpus Christi.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) provided nearly $400,000 in humanitarian assistance to help support ELCA partners serving these thousands of unaccompanied children. The funds were disbursed through LSS, Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).  ELCA funds supported LSS’ expansion, providing the first-year salary and expenses for a local project manager, administrative overhead and program management.

Is the “surge” over?

While the crisis of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border has faded from the news in recent months, the thousands of kids who came across the border still need food and housing. The immigration courts remain backlogged. The crisis isn’t over, but it’s a different one than policymakers originally imagined. The focus has shifted from border security and stopping the flow of unaccompanied minors, to helping the ones who are already here.

Rev. Michael Stadie, program director for the ELCA’s Lutheran Disaster Response U.S., explains it like this: “Although the number of children coming to this country has decreased, they are still coming. Our grants to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran Social Services of the South will help address the unmet needs of the children who are not covered by the government, as well as help encourage congregations and individuals to also address these needs.”

ELCA funds will also help provide for planning among Lutheran partners in the U.S. and Central America, training materials for potential foster families, the development of welcome centers offering hospitality and support to families and others released from immigration detention centers, advocacy and strategic communications and national coordination.

Lutherans on the scene

“One of the untold stories of what the media called the border crisis was that Lutherans were already on the scene,” said Linda Hartke, president of LIRS. “LIRS and our partners have been helping unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge for decades.

“When the number of children and families (arriving in the U.S.) increased to unprecedented levels, we worked proactively to address programmatic and advocacy needs. The generous grant from ELCA’s Lutheran Disaster Response enables LIRS to extend critical protections and services and to engage more volunteers. Most of all, the grant demonstrates that Lutherans are in this for the long haul. If even one unaccompanied child is in need of refuge, we will be there,” said Hartke.

“Lutheran Disaster Response and LSS share a long history of partnership in service to those who are in need,” said Mark Minick, senior vice president for external relations for LSS and Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response (LSSDR).

“We are thankful to now expand and strengthen that partnership by providing healing and hope to children and families in new ways. Among other roles, this work together provides an on-the-ground presence to assist with volunteer needs and roles, organizing of resources and spiritual care activities, and collaboration and coordination of regional, national and international efforts of Lutheran partners and other response agencies,” said Minick. “We are grateful to Lutheran Disaster Response and the ELCA for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of God’s children, often coming from such dire circumstances.”

To learn more about LSS’ Disaster Response program, please visit


Christmas Parties! Foster In Texas Wraps Up 2014

2014 FIT xmas austin Alicia

Foster In Texas (FIT), a program of Lutheran Social Services, went all out celebrating Christmas with their foster families this year and we are excited to share stories and photos from a few of our 14 local foster offices.

2014 FIT xmas austin staff

Austin FIT staff

AUSTIN: [reported by Lindsey Stockton, FIT regional director]

The Austin FIT Christmas party was held at Triumphant Love Lutheran Church on December 19 and the church generously provided dinner for our foster children and their families.  Placed around the room, were games that included prizes and two tables for arts and crafts.

And then … Santa came!

Children enjoyed having their photos taken with Santa, and excitement grew, as he passed out presents.

Corpus Christi FIT staff

Corpus Christi FIT staff

Corpus Christi: [reported by Angelita Figueroa, FIT area director]

The Corpus Christi FIT office held an amazing Christmas party for our foster families on December 20 that included face painting, games, balloon artists and dancing with a local DJ. Pastor Patsy Koeneke of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church graciously allowed us to hold our event in the church hall. Santa, along with Mrs. Claus and one of his elves, took pictures with all the children and distributed presents donated by Trinity Lutheran Church, Our Lady of the Pillar Parish and Grace United Methodist Church.  We want to thank these churches for their generosity and for bringing such happy smiles to our kids and their foster parents!

Santa paid Dallas FIT party a visit

Santa paid Dallas FIT party a visit

Dallas/Richardson:  [reported by Rebekah Poling]

Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Dallas hosted a fun Christmas party for local FIT families with an abundance of help from some stellar volunteers: the Peace Riders Motorcycle Group, National Charity League and “Ryan” the stocking-maker. Children played games, made hand-print Christmas tree paintings that turned out beautifully and a gingerbread house-making contest meant prizes for the winners. One particular highlight of the party was the photo booth, where kids lined up to take their special Christmas photos.

DJ Nick Amendola kept things moving, and lo and behold, the Krum High School band performed once again! Scrumptious desserts were provided by the National Charity League and Rejoice Lutheran Church in Frisco. When the happy children and their foster parents headed home, each was given a Santa hat and poinsettia. The spirit of Christmas was everywhere!

Lots of gifts at Ft Worth FIT party

Lots of gifts at Ft Worth FIT party

Fort Worth:  [reported by Rebekah Poling, associate VP of development]

The Fort Worth party was held at Calvary Lutheran Church, with lots of help from an amazing team of volunteers and Janelle Miller, Director of Youth and Family Ministries for Calvary Lutheran. Children played games including basketball and four square, made crafts and family teams competed in a gingerbread house-making competition. The Krum High School band gave a special performance and a wonderful meal was generously donated by Napoli’s Italian Café & Confectionary in Grapevine and Wagon Grill in Grapevine.

Santa was on hand to present toys and gifts to each child – he was assisted by volunteer elves including Fossil employees in Dallas who wrapped the gifts and special elf “Ryan” who made the stockings. With tins of desserts and lots of music, laughter and presents for families to enjoy, everyone had a joyous Christmas celebration!

Merry Christmas from Laredo FIT staff!

Merry Christmas from Laredo FIT staff!

Laredo: [reported by Oscar Guerra, FIT area director]

The Laredo FIT office hosted a Christmas party for their 67 foster children and 28 foster families at the Monte Carlo Reception Hall on December 23. The hall was beautifully decorated with a white and gold Christmas theme and families were greeted by a life-size Santa Claus in the main lobby. During the party, everyone enjoyed a delicious three-course meal and each child received several presents made possible through the generosity of the Lamar Bruni Vergara Trust and Foundation.

A big thank you to our FIT staff who purchased and delivered the Christmas gifts:

Linda Mendiola, FIT recruiter Fabiola Erhard, FIT- FSW Dora Solis, FIT-FSW
Guadalupe Martinez, FIT-FSW Monica Bondoc, placement coordinator Esther Leija, secretary

For the fifth year in a row, children were delighted by an awesome Santa Claus played by Roger Allen. Thanks so much Roger! The Munequitas (dolls) provided the entertainment consisting of games, songs, balloon animals and contests for the kids.

In addition, FIT area director Oscar Guerra presented Laredo’s foster families with door prizes and boxes of chocolates as tokens of appreciation for their loyalty and commitment to FIT. All foster parents and children had such a great time and said they are already looking forward to next year’s Christmas party.

2014 FIT xmas laredo1

This December was a festive time for all our foster children, parents and FIT staff who celebrated together. May we never forget the reason for the season, or our FIT Christmas celebrations, which successfully bring families and communities together in love – for each other and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

FIT is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South. For more information, please visit


Together! Adoption completes this Harlingen family

The Abundiz family at consummation ceremony

The Abundiz family at consummation ceremony

JoDee was only four days old when she was placed in a Harlingen Foster In Texas (FIT) home belonging to Jorge and Lydia Abundiz. She had tested positive for cocaine at the time of her birth on April 25, 2013 and was immediately removed from her parent’s custody. In addition, parental rights were terminated for JoDee’s three older siblings; two are now in the custody of their great-grandparents and the other sibling was adopted by a nonrelative. At the time, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) approached the great-grandparents about also taking JoDee, but they were not up to the task of caring for a newborn. Without a suitable placement available with her biological family members, JoDee came into FIT’s care.

As JoDee’s legal case developed, the Abundiz family voiced their interest in becoming her forever family. They felt she would truly make their family complete and submitted their letter of intent to DFPS. JoDee stole their hearts from day one – along with the hearts of everyone around her – and had formed a tight bond with the family. She is a very happy child, always smiling and affectionate.

JoDee with FSW Diana Leon. Photo taken day of JoDee’s emergency placement in the Abundiz home.

JoDee with FSW Diana Leon. Photo taken day of JoDee’s emergency placement in the Abundiz home.

Diana Leon, FIT Family Service Worker, has worked with JoDee and the Abundiz family throughout their journey. “It has been a wonderful experience watching JoDee grow, and knowing that she is now part of such a wonderful family,” said Diana. “I remember holding her for the first time, seeing her crawl, take her first step and attempting to say my name. It has been just beautiful!”

Today, Jorge and Lydia continue to care for other foster children in their home.

If you are ready to make a difference in the life of a child, visit – – for more information.

FIT is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South.

JoDee at 2014 FIT Halloween party with FSW Diana Leon

JoDee at 2014 FIT Halloween party with FSW Diana Leon


“A Home for the Holidays” for Former Foster Youth in Central TX

BeREAL moving day [story by Sarah Crocker, BeREAL Austin transitional services program director]

BeREAL [Ready Educated Accomplished Leaders] Austin, the LSS housing support and mentoring network for youth aging out of foster care in Central Texas, began accepting applications in September and placing young adults in Supervised Independent Living (SIL) apartments in October.

There has been a flurry of moving activity recently, with seven new BeREAL residents – five young adults and two children. Two more are moving in December 19, for a total of nine by year’s end. Eventually, we anticipate serving around 30 youth each year.

About BeREAL Austin

BeREAL Austin helps foster youth transition to self-sufficiency and independence by providing Supervised Independent Living as they age out of care. Through a partnership with a national multi-family real estate company, LSS secured discounted apartments for participants in Austin.

Foster children have little control over decisions impacting their lives, then suddenly at age 18, they are treated as fully capable adults, with adult responsibilities and expectations. BeREAL Austin helps prepare them for this new role.

A grant from Grande Communications is helping fund the cost of utilities and household items. BeREAL is an important component of LSS’ continuum of care in our children’s programs, focusing on our mission to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities.

Our BeREAL Austin clients

Applicants for the program are initially screened by DFPS, and to be eligible must be foster youth between 18-21, who were in foster care on their 18th birthday. They must either be in school or working, or a combination of both, and all of our participants fit into these categories.

Meet our residents:

  • A 19-year-old mother, who has a one-year old daughter, attends classes at Austin Community College (ACC) and is working for an insurance company. She is studying criminal justice and plans to be a probation officer.
  • A 19-year-old mother, who has a one-year-old son, completed one year at ACC and plans to re-enroll this spring. She wants to study accounting and become a CPA.
  • An 18-year-old female, who works at the nearby HEB, has enrolled to start her first semester at ACC in January. She wants to be a social worker and help kids like herself.
  • A 20-year-old male completed one year at A&M-Corpus Christi and is now at ACC. His 18-year-old sister, another new resident, lives in the same complex in an adjacent building. She enrolled for her first semester at ACC and is looking for a job nearby.

For most of their lives, they’ve been placed apart. Now they get to see each other every day – to learn and support one another – as they figure life out. They also enjoy waving at each other from their balconies!

As each of these youth achieve their identified education and employment goals, they are expected to transition to unsupervised independent living.

crib BeREAL Unpacking

Can You Help BeREAL?

Yes! As we move in more residents, we always need gently used furniture (couches and dining tables), microwaves and other household items. View our online donation list  and contact Sarah Crocker at 512-813-9828 or by email [email protected].


Adoption Day in Laredo

laredo garcia Adoption

Congratulations to the Garcias of Laredo!

“Words cannot express the gratitude we feel for helping us form our dream family. May God bless you always!” – note to FIT area director Oscar Guerra from foster and adoptive mom Norma Garcia

Laredo’s Foster In Texas (FIT), parents Edmundo and Norma Garcia, saw their dreams come true on November 21 when they adopted the three adorable siblings who had been in their care. In addition, several other children found their forever families on the same day during adoption consummation hearings – in celebration of National Adoption Month – presided over by Honorable Judge Oscar J. Hale of the 406th District Court.

The court house was filled with balloons, decorations, family and friends, and to commemorate the event, the siblings each received gifts from our FIT staff and Mrs. Garcia was presented with a beautiful bouquet of roses.

The Garcias couldn’t have been happier and are very grateful for Laredo’s FIT team who were with them throughout the entire process. What a beautiful family!

This year during National Adoption Month, FIT consummated 29 adoptions. Currently, there is a state wide shortage of foster families in Texas capable and willing to foster infants, children with special needs, siblings and teens.

 If you are ready to make a difference in the life of a child, visit – – for more information.

FIT is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South.

Laredo garcia Adoption (1)

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Foster In Texas® is a registered trademark. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Foster In Texas is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.