PALESTINE, Texas (KETK) — A town hall meeting was held in Palestine to answer questions about changes to the East Texas foster care system.

In February, 4 Kids 4 Families was officially awarded a community-based contract with the State of Texas. This means they’re now responsible for overseeing foster care in the Piney Woods.

Many gathered in Palestine to learn about the new community-based care for foster families in Texas.

“It’s going to give some ownership to allow private agencies to be responsive and very flexible to care of the needs of the children,” said John Mark McMullen, Senior Vice President for Community-based Care in the Piney Woods

4 Kids 4 Families is a private agency that will be representing the Piney Woods, or Region 4, which covers 23 counties in East Texas.

This gives communities access to resources that they wouldn’t normally have.

“Getting them engaged and asking them how we can walk alongside them to make sure their children are cared for,” said McMullen.

They said the proposed changes will have a significant impact on the foster system currently in place and will start as early as November 2023.

4 Kids 4 Families will take over the intake of foster children for the region.

This means once a child is removed, instead of going into a central placement unit at the Department of Family and Protective Services, 4 Kids 4 Families will place the children in a home that’s part of a network of fosters.

“We believe every child who has been removed from their biological family has trauma and needs to be treated and we will be spending a lot of time focused on that,” said McMullen.

46% of the children in the Piney Woods region who are removed from their homes are placed outside of their county.

“They do not see the same school, the same friends, the same communities, the same churches. They don’t have that,” said McMullen.

They urge more families to consider fostering a child and see the benefits of community-based care.

Stage two of community-based care is expected to start in May of 2024 when 4 Kids 4 Families will take over case management and be more involved in the legal side of foster care.