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2014-11-13

Help for Bandera's at-risk children becoming a reality

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

An organization designed to assist the most vulnerable residents of Bandera County is now one step closer along in its organizational process.
During a regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 23, county commissioners reviewed the current status of a proposed local child welfare services organization, as presented by County Attorney Janna Lindig. Commissioners also determined a plan for implementation of the county's first organization of this type.
The idea first surfaced during a court session over a year ago. At that time, county officials were asked if they would be willing to serve on the board. County Treasurer Billie Reeves, prime mover behind the project, said the list of those willing to donate their time to the project now tops 25 people.
"We only need seven to 15 people to make up a board of directors," she said in an interview on Wednesday, Nov. 5. Reeves emphasized that all potential board members must live in Bandera County and undergo a background check.
Child Welfare Boards are typically created via a contract with the commissioners court and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (FPS). However, Bandera County's child welfare services organization is taking another route.
"We're in the process of establishing ourselves as a 501(c)3 that will be somewhat autonomous from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)," Reeves explained. "The board will work under direction of commissioners court. Commissioners have determined that concerned citizens of Bandera County can take care of their own at-risk children without intervention from the state."
Using this option, the child welfare services' autonomous 501(c)3 status would enable the board to apply for donations and grants.
In addition, according to County Judge Richard Evans, meetings of the child welfare services board would follow the Open Meetings Act, Government Code 551. Telephone calls, conference calls, video-conferences and emails may also be subject to open meetings requirements. Violations could result in members being subject to civil remedies and criminal penalties and any action taken by the board while in non-compliance can be voided.
Enabling legislation comes under the Texas Family Code-Title 5, Chapter 264, Child Welfare Services, specifically FAM 264.005, County Child Welfare Boards.
Funding for the proposed Bandera's organization will be derived primarily from jury donations earmarked specifically "for the benefit and welfare of Bandera County's youth and their programs." In this case, jurors can opt to donate their daily compensation to the cause. According Lindig, funds were also leftover after the inactivation of the Bandera County Youth Services, an organization spearheaded by former County Treasurer Kay Welch.
Reeves said, "The jury donations are deposited in a special account by County Clerk Candy Wheeler. At this point, we have about $12,000 in the account."
She noted that the funds would also underwrite the care of local children who fall under the purview of child welfare services. "These are children who have been taken from their homes for their protection, but not yet placed in a foster home," Reeves said. "The child welfare board would help ensure that they would not fall through the cracks - and have the essentials needed for their immediate care."
She added, "We are moving forward with this much-need project at last. And not just with baby steps, but with leaps and bounds."
Local officials consulted with Kendall County's Child Welfare Board and Medina County's nonprofit HANK, Inc. Bandera County's organization has used their bylaws as a template.
"The organization HANK, Inc., (Helping Abused and Neglected Kids) has been a wonderful consultant to forming our child welfare services organization," Reeves said.
According to HANK President and Director John Southwell, HANK was created in 2009 for providing for child victims of abuse and neglect with "things that are not provided by the state or any other source."
As Southwell explained, when the children are removed from their homes by law enforcement and Child Protective Services, many leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They have no change of clothing, toys or books, toiletries or even a teddy bear. When these children are placed with relatives or in foster care, there is very little money or help available to the children.
"At this point, CPS caseworkers call HANK and make a written request for goods and services," Southwell said. "We get requests constantly for goods and services, clothing, school supplies, beds, bedding and toys. The list goes on and on. All requests are put in writing and verified by CPS supervisors."
"HANK will be a wonderful resource for our local child welfare board," Reeves said. She estimates the Bandera's child welfare services organization will be up and running as soon as the 501(c)3 status is obtained and a board is appointed."
Reeves first became aware of the need for this type of organization in Bandera County while working as a substitute teacher for 10 years. "I could see how much an organization like this was needed and how much it would help children who are scared, hurt and unempowered. This has become my passion," she said.