Placements suspended with Texas foster care contractor, affecting its 127 homes in Dallas area

foster_care_abuse-300x200[1]AUSTIN — The state has stopped placing abused and neglected children with a major contractor after finding more problems at the company's nearly 400 foster homes, a third of them in North Texas.

A recent state sweep of foster homes run by Texas Mentor, a division of National Mentor Healthcare, disclosed more instances of substandard care, the Department of Family and Protective Services said Friday.

In late July, the company came under scrutiny after the death of toddler Alexandria Hill in a foster home it recruited in Rockdale, an hour northeast of Austin. A Milam County grand jury has charged an inexperienced foster mother with capital murder in the toddler’s head-slamming death.

Thursday, Commissioner John Specia halted further placements with the company after being briefed on the latest home visits, said department spokesman Patrick Crimmins. Gov. Rick Perry named Specia, a former San Antonio judge, to run the agency last November.

“Specia directed that placements be suspended because what we are finding in Mentor homes continues to be very concerning, systemwide,” Crimmins said. “We have to be sure that these homes are safe.”

The company, the state’s No. 3 foster care contractor, said it has taken aggressive steps to improve vetting and oversight of foster parents as part of a “self-initiated action plan.”

Placement suspensions potentially can shutter private agencies such as Texas Mentor that depend heavily on state foster-care payments. The company is a division of Boston-based National Mentor Holdings Inc., a $1 billion-a-year corporation. It provides health care and social services in 34 states.

Company executive Wendy Bagwell acknowledged that Texas Mentor derives “the vast majority” of its revenue from contracts with the department. Last year, the state paid it $10 million to care for about 5 percent of the state’s foster kids. It cares for 612, down from 673 on Aug. 15.

“We have a 23-year track record of providing quality services to the children of Texas. And we are committed to continuous quality improvement,” said Bagwell, Texas Mentor’s state director.

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