The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
A change in state policy has resulted in 13 disabled children being removed from Port Arthur’s Hughen Center and placed in foster care over the past year.
The Texas state legislature has directed Child Protective Services to place state-warded special needs children under the care of foster homes rather than in residential living systems, said Shari Pulliam, media specialist for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
“The legislature wants to try and place children in the least restrictive setting possible,” Pulliam said. “It’s better when you have a foster child in a traditional home instead of a big institution. We think this will be a better outcome for them because they get more one-on-one care, and it’s more of a family setting.”
The center at one time housed up to 18 children, but over the past year, the state has been systematically placing them in foster care. Currently five children remain, with four to soon be replaced in foster care. Because the one remaining child was privately placed, that child will remain at Hughen. The Hughen Center began as a strictly private-placement facility, and it will now return to its roots.
“We are no longer contracted with the state, but we’re going to go ahead and continue taking privately-placed kids,” said Bobby Lopez, director of the Hughen Center. “If CPS is not involved, we can take them. What we’re doing right now is reaching out to agencies that know of privately-placed kids.”
United Way is one of the Hughen Center’s primary funders, with $100,000 allocated for 2013. The local United Way branch is in the process of its allocation program to determine whether Hughen will continue to receive funding from them, said Janie Johnson, executive director of United Way of Mid and South Jefferson County.
“The private placement will be on a sliding scale basis,” Johnson said. “For those who don’t have the insurance to pay for their stay at Hughen, they will still be eligible for 501(c)3.”
The allocations are decided by a board comprised of volunteers from the community, Johnson said. After financials are reviewed, the board will do a site visit to get a better idea of what the center does hands-on. Next will come a budget hearings, where representatives from Hughen will have the opportunity to explain in detail what their program does. The last step is a closed meeting, in which the volunteers will decide which agencies will receive funding and how much.
Since 1936, the Thomas W. Hughen Center has been a haven for children and adults with physical disabilities and other functional impairments. What began in one room of a local charity hospital with one teacher, a therapist and a helper has today expanded into the Hughen Center, Inc. The facility consists of the Hebert Adult Center and the Bob Hope School — named for legendary comedian Bob Hope, who would often travel to Port Arthur with his wife to appear in fundraisers on the Center’s behalf. Hope joined forces with the Fraternal Order of Eagles to hold a fundraiser in Houston that would raise more than $1 million to erect a high school on campus. In 1979, the Bob Hope School became the newest addition.
“The Hughen Center has been here for a very long time, and they have a very good reputation,” Pulliam said. “But we have to do what is best for these kids that we’re in charge of taking care of. We don’t want them to linger in foster care — we want to move toward adoption. That’s what we want is permanency — it doesn’t matter how old you get, you still need a family to call your own, and that’s what we want for these kids.”
Lopez is optimistic that the center will continue its successful history — especially since the Bob Hope School and the Hebert Adult Center are not affected by these changes.
“We’ve done an extremely positive thing for these kids — there is not a single kid that has not benefited from our services,” he said. “We anticipate that there’ll be a transitional period before we pick up, but we’re going to continue to reach out and seek support from our clientele.
“We’re going strong, and we’re going to continue going strong and continue to service our community.”