Posts Tagged ‘child and family services’


Foster Care Stakeholders Conference in Laredo

Laredo Conference -groupAnyone who attended the Foster In Texas conference in Laredo on September 19th went away with an abundance of helpful information to take to their jobs, foster homes, or just to apply to life in general. There were 177 attendees who enjoyed learning while earning their continuing education credits, along with table discussions and a very nice lunch!

Robert Leal, executive vice president for programs for Lutheran Social ServicesFoster In Texas (FIT) was the keynote speaker, followed by speakers and subject matter experts who presented the following topics:

  • Cultural competency
  • Getting dads involved
  • The tie between foster care and Juvenile Justice
  • Trauma-informed care

Thanks to everyone involved who made this conference so worthwhile and enjoyable!

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Oh Happy Day! Foster Mom Adopts Siblings

Johnson familyvictoria web

When Emma and Ethan first arrived at the door of Tiffany Johnson’s foster home in Victoria, Texas, they were heartbreakingly dirty, hungry, and medically fragile. Tiffany became a licensed Foster In Texas (FIT) parent in 2011, after moving to Victoria from Mississippi. Emma and Ethan were placed in her home by the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) on May 17, 2012. Emma suffered from MRSA (a staph infection that is resistant to most antibiotics) and Ethan had attacks of apnea due to enlarged adenoids. Within the first month, Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) declared Ethan was deaf.

Tiffany made numerous trips to the ER with Ethan due to his recurring, severe apnea attacks, when CPR had to be performed. At 15 months old, Ethan had surgery to remove his adenoids and insert tubes into ears to drain the excess fluid which was keeping him from hearing and walking.

All this time, Tiffany was working diligently to help the Emma and Ethan’s parents get their children back. She attended court hearings, met the parents for approved visits, conferenced with the family about their needs, and included them in the medical procedures of their children. Tiffany allowed the parents and grandparents to make visits to the hospital when Ethan was dangerously ill.

Although Tiffany offered the support that most biological parents only dream of, they were not able to become stable enough to get their children back and their rights were terminated February 19, 2012. Since being in her home the children have progressed and are now considered medically healthy. The little family had become very close and Emma started sleeping with Tiffany’s keys – to keep her from leaving her, she said. Ethan’s surgery was a success and he is able to hear and walk now. He is becoming a very verbal and loving boy. Emma continues to thrive and has not had a bout with MRSA since January 2013.

It’s been a long and exhausting road, but Tiffany was able to adopt Emma and Ethan (now 4 and 2) as her forever children on November 12, 2013. Congratulations to this fabulous new family!

Now that’s the way to celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month!


Briana’s Case: A Foster Care Success Story in the Metroplex

Every day throughout Texas, Foster In Texas (FIT) brings children into care who have experienced the worst abuse, neglect, abandonment, and trauma imaginable. These children need emotional and psychological therapeutic care, and frequently require physical rehabilitation and serious medical attention. Briana is one of these children.

From her toddler years, Briana was sexually abused by both family members and her mother’s boyfriends. When she was just eight years old, Briana was removed from her home and sent to live with her grandmother. She continued to suffer emotional and physical neglect, and the memories of the trauma she experienced became too much for her to handle. She stopped eating, speaking, and tried to commit suicide – all before her 13th birthday.

Briana was taken from her grandmother’s house and placed in a loving Foster In Texas home in the DFW Metroplex. With compassionate and consistent care, her icy shell started to crack, and she began the healing process. “Trauma-Informed Care,” the therapy system LSS uses for children in residential treatment and the FIT program in Texas, has successfully treated many children with abusive pasts like Briana’s. She is responding and making progress every day. It will be a long road to healing, and she has many emotional and physical scars, but her foster parents are committed to her recovery. They are sticking by her side as she heals, for as long as it takes.

Foster families like Briana’s are our heroes. They meet all the emotional and physical needs of kids who need a second chance, often while raising their own biological or adopted children. There are nearly 200 children in Foster In Texas care in DFW alone, each with a unique story of hardship, pain, and― through their new families―of hope.  Foster parents, we honor and salute you!



“Adoption Granted!” – One Day x 28


“Adoption granted!”

Following a simple stroke of a feathered pen, Travis County District Court Judge Darlene Byrne smiled and declared to a packed courtroom inside the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center, “Adoption granted!”

On cue, little Mya Huereca, age 4, hammered the gavel down on behalf of Judge Byrne, marking the moment a new life began for all the Huereca family.

When that gavel landed, Eric Thibideaux, Jr., age 17, became Eric Huereca Thibideaux Jr. – the newest and forever son of Jacob and Manijeh Huereca, and big brother to sisters Persia, 6, Mya, and Leilani, 9 months.

The Huerecas. Eric, Manijeh, Jacob, Leilani, Persia, and Mya

“I’m just so happy to have a place to always call home, and someone there to tell me what’s right and what’s wrong,” a shy Eric told the courtroom full of family, friends, courtroom staff, social workers, attorneys and local media. “When I get home I’m going to be like all jumping up and down.”

On most days, the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center in Austin, TX is not a place any kid wants to face the judge. But this wasn’t most days. This was that “One Day,” a word combination printed on some of the hundreds of balloons throughout the building commemorating Austin’s 11th Annual Adoption Day. Counting Eric, 28 children and their new families heard a judge declare those magic words, “Adoption granted.”

There’s No Place Like Home

So magical in fact that if you didn’t know better, you’d have thought you were somewhere over the rainbow. Like the courtroom in the Emerald City. Complete with a yellow brick road, a girl named Dorothy, her friends Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, and a good witch named Glinda. There was also a clown with a red nose in attendance and a man who looked a lot like Abraham Lincoln wearing a big black hat. Gardner Betts apparently stuck to their no pets allowed policy so Toto was a no go but hundreds of stuffed animals covering just about every available surface more than made up for the missing canine.

It was my first adoption ceremony and I was surprised to learn how similar granting an adoption is to a normal court case. Child and family represented by an attorney calling witnesses to testify who have sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Except festive like a wedding. Lots of smiles and tears of joy. It reminded me a little like being in the hospital for the birth of one of my own children and overhearing the medical staff refer to the maternity ward as the “happy floor.”  On One Day at Gardner Betts, it is a happy floor. Everybody wins.

I was asked to come and observe by my colleague Kristen Ellis, Area Director of our Austin Foster In Texas foster care and adoption office, one of 15 run by Lutheran Social Services in the state. The Huerecas had been fostering Eric already through Foster In Texas and in their minds he was already a permanent part of the family before Judge Byrne made it official. It’s called “foster-to-adopt” in our line of work and is typically just about the best outcome for any kid in the foster care system. Kids Eric’s age are at risk of “aging out” of the foster care system where they face huge odds of making it in the world alone. Incarceration and homelessness are far too often the outcome of kids who age out.

If that weren’t enough, I then bumped into Cynthia Goodwin who works in our accounting department. She and her husband Dan adopted two small girls, biological sisters — Briana, 15 months, and Alina, almost 3 — on One Day as well. A magical One Day indeed!

Cynthia and Dan Goodwin with their newly adopted daughters, Briana and Alina.


Singing the Praises of Our Unsung Heroes During Foster Care Month

We’d like you to meet another one of our amazing foster families: Steve and Connie Murr. We think they’re amazing because of the work they do with our Foster In Texas (FIT) kids. The Murrs have fostered more than 200 children over the past 30 years! A big percentage of these children have had serious medical conditions that require extensive monitoring and a high level of care.

This video gives a little glimpse into “a day in the life” of the Murrs. They are busy people who love what they do – caring for the children who need it the most. Since May is National Foster Care Month, please join us in singing the praises of families like the Murrs! It’s also a great time to consider if becoming a foster parent might be in your own future—our online interest form is the starting point …


Cinco de Mayo Foster Family Fiesta

laredo cinco masks On Saturday May 5th, more than 200 foster children and their foster families celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a Fiesta in Laredo. The Laredo office of LSS Foster In Texas, Lamar Bruni Vergara Trust, Foster Angels of South Texas, and TDFPS hosted this fun event, which all happened on Laredo’s Main Street across from the Holy Redeemer Church.

From 10am to 4pm, fiesta-goers enjoyed food, refreshments, paletas (popsicles), face painting, fishing for prizes, musical chairs, raffles, plus games and more games. Visiting foster families also had the opportunity to get bilingual information on Foster In Texas program and other similar programs.

A large white canvas canopy was decorated with piñatas, zarapes and other festive Mexican decorations set the festival mood. The smiles on the faces of our 106 foster children and their families said it all!


We Need Foster Homes for Infants

baby boy This is a switch for us at LSS-Foster In Texas. It seems we always have a shortage of qualified and loving homes to foster teenagers, large sibling groups, and children with primary medical needs (PMN). We are forever seeking/recruiting/pleading for new families who feel called and have the backgrounds to care for these harder-to-place children.

Well the tide seems to have turned, and while (of course) we still need foster families for all age groups, most recently we have a shortage of families to care for infants. Yes, the tiniest and most innocent demographic of all … babies!

According to Robert Leal, Foster In Texas vice president for Adoption & Foster Care, this is a statewide issue. We first heard from our Austin office that Child Protective Services needed to place several infants and we were, at least temporarily, unable to accommodate them. These are usually emergency situations when babies are removed from their biological homes for all kinds of reasons … none of them good.

Our best pipeline for new and qualified foster homes has always been referrals from other Foster In Texas (FIT) parents. Friends of FIT parents are familiar with what it takes to raise foster children, having seen it modeled through people they know. And since we have 16 (!) foster care and adoption offices throughout Texas, this network is vital and widespread. So if you are interested in exploring becoming a foster parent, whatever your location, we can work with you.

First, visit our website,, where you’ll find FAQs and all the information you’ll need about applying. And call 877-747-8110 to learn more and speak with a foster care intake coordinator.

FIT parents receive extensive training and support, daily reimbursement based on the needs of the child, and most importantly lots of love!


Foster Home Shortage in Victoria In the News

Photo courtesy of the Victoria Advocate. Pictured are Jae, 4, left, and her sibling Jordan, 2. Both were fostered and adopted by Laura and John Gonzales.

One of our Foster In Texas (FIT) families was featured this week on the front page of the Victoria Advocate. Laura and John Gonzales of Victoria currently have eight children living in their home (four biological, three adopted former foster children, and one foster child ) and are in the process of expanding their home to accommodate more children in need.

The Gonzales family is more than willing to take in as many children as they can, but the reality is that many children in the “Crossroads” (as the Victoria area is nicknamed) must be placed out of the area once removed from their homes by Child Protective Services.

This article does a good job of pointing out the urgency of recruiting quality foster families, a situation that is unfortunately repeated all over the state. Particularly critical is the need for parents who will foster medically fragile children, teenagers, and sibling groups, as our Victoria office Area Director Crystal Laslie points out.

We treasure our foster families like Laura and John Gonzales, as you’ll understand when you read the story here.


Helping Them Heal: Foster Parenting Medically Fragile Children

lagneaux The seed was planted four years ago. Angelamarie and Ron Lagneaux were running the homeless shelter for St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Austin, TX, and every night they sat down to dinner with the shelter residents. The stories, cycles, and backgrounds that led these individuals to homelessness were the same “99 percent of the time” according to Angelamarie. They had all been in the foster care system and said, “If we only had a family to love us” their lives would be totally different.

The Lagneauxs took it as their mission to do everything they could to help stop the cycle. In 2008 they became foster parents for Lutheran Social Services and the Foster In Texas (FIT) program in the Austin area. They recognized that the children in the most need were those with serious medical issues – the “Primary Medical Needs” or PMN children who were hardest to place because of their complicated medical problems and the demands required of those who care for them. Angelamarie says, “God chose me to do this … and it’s easier to go with God’s plan for your life than to fight him every step of the way.”

Although Angelamarie does not have a formal medical background, she began helping with her cousin’s recovery following an auto accident 15 years ago, and today still cares for the cousin, a quadraplegic. She also has taken care of her mother, who has severe rheumatoid arthritis, since she was 18.

In the past three years, the Lagneauxs have fostered six children for LSS, five of those PMN. Currently, they have two PMN children in their care (ages 2 and 5) plus their 20-month-old biological daughter Francesca and a baby on the way. Medical crises are a way of life for the Lagneauxs, as their foster children have required such procedures as kidney transplant and brain surgeries, feeding tubes (both nasal and gastric), and home dialysis.

The ongoing need and search for foster parents—particularly those willing to care for PMN children―is unrelenting, which is why foster parents like the Lagneauxs are treasured by our agency. Angelamarie sings the praises of LSS family services worker Kristen Ellis, who is always available to them in the middle of the night when any of the children has been hospitalized. She said the support they receive for their foster children is a “family approach” and Ellis always keeps them informed of new foster care laws and developments.

When we asked Angelamarie what she would say to other parents who are considering fostering, especially PMN kids, this was her response:

“These children are basically alone, and with their huge medical problems they not only need someone to love them but they need someone to advocate for them and navigate through the medical world. Being alone in this environment, with no one to question the medical staff or help understand their condition, is very scary. Because things can go wrong and often do.”

“I get to take care of the most amazing children and learn so much, and I love to do the research.

Being a PMN home is the greatest reward. You may have been up for two days straight with no sleep, with your child in a medical crisis. And then they give you a smile … it all makes the long nights worth it. And the smile you receive is a gift from GOD.”


Matches Made in Laredo – Adoption Awareness Picnic

Laredo horses Almost 30 families and close to 40 children got together in Laredo this past Saturday for an“Adoption Awareness Picnic” sponsored by the local Rotary Club and Texas Department of Human Services (CPS). The Laredo Foster in Texas (FIT) office participated in this special event for foster children, their foster families, and prospective adoptive parents, so they all could have some fun while enabling the adoption process.

The venue for the picnic, the Alexander Crossings Golf Centre, provided the setting for a wide range of activities, including a dance contest, karaoke machine, moon walk, horseback rides, and lots of good food. The Laredo FIT office had a face-painting booth, where our local artist and LSS Family Social Worker Mayra Guzman delighted the kids with her creations, with bats and Halloween-related designs most requested. Laredo picnic

“The picnic was a great success where Webb County adoptive families had the opportunity to socialize with legally free, available children in a ‘real life’ setting,” said Oscar Guerra, LSS FIT area director.

“It is a golden opportunity for them to observe kids who will never be allowed to return to their birth parents and need a permanent home. The event gave siblings a chance to be together, and I believe quite a few people met the special child who will complete their family.”


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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.