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Migrant Children Have State, Federal Foster Care Competing for Parents

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune
On June 24, 2014, volunteers gather at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, where the Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities have a makeshift shelter to help handle the surge of immigrants who have crossed into the U.S. in recent weeks.

The influx of children from Central America arriving at the Texas-Mexico border has many people asking how they can help.

One way people can help is by becoming foster parents – but acting as a foster parent for the federal government is different than being a foster parent for the state.

Nancy Langer is with a group called Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. It places children in the federal foster system, through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. It handles foster care for children that have crossed the border – and in those cases, the placements are often short.

"Most of the kids - about 95 percent plus – of these kids that are coming in, have family in the United States," Langer says. "And most of them get re-united with that family."

Many foster parents are licensed to work with both the federal and state systems – and some do. Foster parents have to go through background checks and training for federal foster care, much like they would if they wanted to foster through the state. But one big difference is the stipend parents receive: federal stipends are more generous.

Evan Moilan is with Lutheran Social Services of the South, a subcontractor that places children both with state and with federal foster parents. In federal foster cases, she says "the federal reimbursement goes through us directly to the family – in full."

That's one reason why federal stipends are beefier. When agencies place children through federal foster care, foster parents get one check and the placing agency gets another. Not so in the state system – agencies get a check, and their fee must be deducted.

Another way the federal foster care system differs from the state system: aside from shorter placements, fewer of the children are victims of abuse or neglect. 

Moilan says they still need more foster parents for refugee children and unaccompanied minors – especially in the Corpus Christi and El Paso areas. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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