Many nights – somewhere in a Texas Child Protective Services office – there's a child sleeping, tucked in somewhere among the desks and computers instead of spending the night with a family. That’s because there are not enough families in Texas registered to foster kids who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
But the situation would be much worse for CPS without the help of these children’s extended families. Thousands of aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends around Texas volunteer to care for kids while they're in the system. CPS calls this type of care a kinship placement.
Felicita Ochoa smells like flowers. She's standing by the bus stop in a blue dress with white polka dots. Her kids should be coming home from school any minute now.
"There it is. There's the bus," she says in Spanish.
Ochoa’s 7-year-old steps off first. His first question (also in Spanish): "Mom, Are we going out for ice cream today?" Once her 4-year-old is also off the bus, Ochoa grabs their backpacks and all three head home.
Rearing kids is a tough task no matter the parent’s age. But Ochoa says it's a little harder at her age – she is now 64. It is hard, but don't get her wrong – she says she’s not complaining.
"My husband and I are happy because the kids are finally in good hands,” she says in Spanish. “And God willing, they'll remain in good hands"
The Ochoas adopted their daughter's biological kids this past summer. But the abuse those boys went through at the hands of their parents and their parents' tenants was heart-breaking. The kids were beaten so hard they were left unconscious and the sexual abuse left them bruised.
Three years ago, the Ochoas were oblivious to all this. They knew their daughter was beaten at home. But their daughter never wanted to leave her partner, that's why she concealed the kids' abuse.
Still, Felicita Ochoa says her husband suspected something was terribly wrong.
“Every time they would visit us – when it was time for them to leave – the kids would cry. But they cried in such a way that my husband would cry too,” Ochoa says in Spanish. “‘Something wrong is going on there,’ [my husband] would say.”
CPS got an anonymous tip and investigated the situation. Ochoa thinks someone at the kids' school made the call. The kids were promptly removed from their biological parents and placed in kinship care with the Ochoas. A couple of years later they were able to adopt their grandkids.
Marissa Gonzalez is with CPS. She says more than 10,000 children who are in the system in Texas are in a kinship placement.
"There are so many benefits to placing a child with relatives or kinship caregivers,” Gonzalez says. “They are less likely to come back into foster care once they've been placed with a relative. ... They are more likely to stay in one place than when they are in CPS custody and they are a lot more likely to stay connected to their siblings and to their communities."
It also eases the transition of the children back to their biological parents – if the biological parents get their act together.
Such is the case of Tamara's family. We are not using her last name because her CPS case has yet to be finalized.
Tamara has been rearing her granddaughter for four years. At first, it was really tough.
"I felt robbed of being a grandmother – a nana – because I have to parent her,” Tamara says. “I just can't wait for her to be back with her mom and dad so I can be a nana again!"
Tamara's granddaughter now spends every weekend with her parents and siblings. The girl’s mother is clean from drugs and the violence at home has stopped. Once the girl's dad is clean too, the family is expected to be reunited.
The same won’t happen for Felicita Ochoa and her boys. She’s given up being "Grandma" for "Mom." But she says she’s happy she has the chance to help.