Community-based care model provides increased chance of foster children remaining in the community

August 28, 2023

Through the Community-Based Care model, a new way of providing foster care and case management systems, children who have been removed from their homes due to experiencing suspected abuse and neglect have an increased chance of remaining in their community with families who have answered the call to open their hearts and homes to needy kids.

The public received an entire evening’s worth of education on local child protection and abuse prevention resource coordination efforts during a meeting of the New Braunfels IDEA Forum hosted by the Children’s Advocacy Center of Comal County.

Presenters included Kane Jaggers from Belong, a division of SJRC Texas, and Kristin Evens from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).

Traditionally, DFPS is responsible for locating a foster home or other living arrangements for that child.

In the Community-Based Care model, Belong, rather than DFPS, finds foster homes and other suitable living arrangements for foster children and youth in the 27-county area of South Central Texas and the Hill Country.

In April 2021, SJRC Texas, formerly St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, was awarded a contract through DFPS for its division Belong to serve as the lead provider of Community-Based Care. Belong launched its services in October 2021.

Last year, Belong transitioned to a second stage of Community-Based Care. The second stage allowed the agency to assume additional responsibilities of case management services of the child welfare system.

Belong staffers work alongside the DFPS to support children and families impacted by trauma through prevention services and ongoing support. The agency collaborates with various organizations within Comal County to help bring the community together to create a safety net for children and families and help bridge resources to those in need.

According to statistics presented by Jaggers, 35% of children removed from homes this year due to suspected abuse are placed in living arrangements inside Comal County. In addition, 45% of those are placed with kinship family members. Other placements include shelters, foster homes and other accommodations inside and outside the county. The ultimate goal, Jaggers said, is family reunification or adoption.

Jaggers cited some reasons those in-county or kinship placement numbers aren’t higher.

“The kids coming into care are children who are older, who have high mental health needs, who are of minority status, who come in large sibling groups,” Jaggers said. “A lot of individuals in the community have a stigma of what it looks like to be a foster home. But we’re in the home once a month. CASA is in the home once a month. If there’s another agency involved, they’re in the home once a month. We as a culture do not support those who answer the call to be part of the solution.”

Of the 175 Comal County children under Belong’s care, 45% are ages 0-5, 34% are ages 6-13, 13% are aged 14-17 and 8% are aged 18 and up.

The Belong statistics show by gender, 96 of the children removed are girls, while 79 are boys. Broken down by race or ethnicity, 49% are Hispanic, 31% are white, 9% are black and the remainder of the children are multiple races or “unable to determine.”

“We need to do a better job of supporting these people who say ‘I’ll help,'” Jaggers said. “Maybe it’s not to be a foster parent. Maybe it’s to be a mentor. Maybe it’s to help babysit. Maybe it’s to foster a foster family. There are other ways we can be part of the solution.”

With Comal County working together, families can be connected to services to help increase parenting support, mental health services, and community education and awareness to prevent children from being removed and decrease the trauma they experience.

In 2022, there were nearly 57,000 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in Texas, according to DFPS statistics. More than 8%, or 1,447 cases, occurred in Comal County.

“It is up to each of us as members of the community to protect children and ensure that they have the resources necessary to lead productive lives,” Evens said. “Every child deserves to be safe and feel secure.”

Jaggers and Evens said child protection agencies hope to increase the number of foster homes, develop and maintain community collaboration with various stakeholders, identify philanthropic donors, establish a motivated group of volunteers and obtain space for a foster home supply closet.

For more information on how to be part of the solution, join Belong on the first Saturday of the month for a virtual informational meeting by registering at

SJRC Texas has been a foster care provider in Texas for about 40 years, operating a residential operation, child-placing agency and prevention programs. Offices are located in San Antonio, Bulverde and New Braunfels.

Find additional information on the IDEA Forum and future events at

Crisis Center of Comal County settles into new location after devestating 2022 fire

July 25, 2023

In April 2022, the Crisis Center of Comal County lost its emergency shelter and residential facility due to a fire.

Now, the Center is settling into a new home on Landa Street in New Braunfels.

But the agency’s mission hasn’t changed: to provide crisis and prevention services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault while providing a safe environment where individuals can make educated, unbiased decisions about their future.

Mildred Monreal, the Center’s chief development officer, said the new location is advantageous as it provides more space, enabling the organization to expand its offerings.

“It’s great that we moved from a smaller space on East Common Street to this larger space and the chance that we’ll build capacity for the agency,” Monreal said. “It’s very exciting overall as we get more settled into the space and figure out all the new things we can do with it.”

The Center provides services to women, children and men of all ages. These services include a 24-hour crisis line, shelter, counseling, support groups, legal advocacy, assistance with filing for child support, case management, victim advocacy, information and referral, transportation and
community education and prevention.

The new location will eventually serve as the Center’s base of operation — housing its services, thrift store and administrative offices in one place.

“We have our thrift store on site, which is another source of income,” she said. “We’ll be able to have events in the building because we have a ballroom. We plan on changing out our ballroom to a conference-style space, so we can expand our education programs – we can bring in the community to talk to them. Of course, our counseling rooms are available, but now we can go beyond that and work with larger groups because of the larger space. We also have space for our prevention programs.”

The Center is also about to launch a capital campaign to earn funds for a new shelter facility on the Landa Street property that would house the agency’s services and various spaces of living to accommodate families and individuals, as well as a kennel for clients who have pets. The proposed facility would house about 90 people, according to Monreal.

To celebrate the agency’s 37th anniversary and its new location, the Center will host an open house and community partner fair on July 28 from 4-7 p.m. at the facility at 655 Landa St.

The open house will include guided tours and engaging activities for individuals of all ages, making it a family-friendly event.

Additionally, local organizations, businesses and community groups will come together at the event to showcase their services, initiatives and resources.

“We found that now is the right time to open up the doors and share with the community what we are doing as the Crisis Center,” she said. “This is also a way to be transparent with what we are doing and to bond with the community. It is a commitment to make sure that everyone understands what services we provide and is able to get information.”

The Center is a partner organization with the McKenna Foundation. The Foundation’s board recently awarded the Center a $125,000 grant as part of McKenna’s basic living needs portfolio.

If you or someone you know needs immediate help with crisis services, information or referrals, call the Center’s 24-hour crisis line at 800-434-8013 or 830-620-4357 or text 830-310-2199.

Walk-ins are welcome at the office at 655 Landa St. from 9 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no need to make an appointment to receive immediate crisis intervention and advocacy services.

If you are in danger and need immediate assistance, call 9-1-1.

To learn more about the Center and how they serve the community or to volunteer and donate, visit

Child’s Advocacy Center plans new building to expand agency’s family counseling and investigator training programs

July 17, 2023

Helpers sometimes need help.

Plans for a proposed building expansion project are in the works that would allow the Children’s Advocacy Center of Comal County (CACCC) to offer specialized training and group support for multidisciplinary team members who work on child abuse cases.

CACCC got the okay from the New Braunfels City Council in February for $136,626 for the Counseling and Training Expansion Center project from an allocation the city received from the U.S. Department of the Treasury Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program, a part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The program provides funds to state, local and tribal governments across the country to support their response to and recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The organization is pursuing funding for the balance of the $341,565 needed for the project from other sources. The agency will provide a construction timeline once funding is secured.

CACCC provides a child-friendly facility with a multidisciplinary approach to prevent, detect, investigate and treat child abuse. The organization offers a place to minimize the number of interviews a child can experience. Investigators observe the interview via camera conducted by a professional, objective forensic interviewer, with the interview recorded for possible use in court.

But studies have shown that individuals who work on child abuse cases can suffer secondary trauma and empathetic strain, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to research by internationally recognized resilience and trauma prevention expert Olga Phoenix, about 70% of social workers suffer from secondary traumatic stress, and 65% of sexual assault therapists exhibit at least one symptom of secondary traumatic stress.

In addition, her studies indicated that 33% of law enforcement members showed high levels of emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment. The research also revealed that 37% of child protection service workers reported clinical levels of emotional distress associated with secondary traumatic stress, and 34% of female forensic interviewers experienced symptoms of secondary traumatic stress.

“They have faster burnout,” said Stacy Dufur, CACCC director of programs. “They have issues with mental health, physical health and relationships – just about anything that someone with first-hand trauma would be dealing with. Part of the reason we want to have the building constructed is to address some of those things in our community and keep the helpers we have.”

That’s where the additional building would come in. The space would allow the agency to provide training and support to alleviate this impact. Services would include research-backed seminars, support groups, yoga classes, art classes, celebration lunches, debriefing areas and counseling for these professionals.

CACCC’s multidisciplinary team encompasses 16 interagency partners and includes about 50 individuals in Comal County. During fiscal year 2022, the team reviewed 2,177 cases of potential child abuse through statewide intakes.

Plans call for constructing a metal building adjacent to the existing facility in the Gruene district of New Braunfels. The concept includes an open plan on the first floor with concrete floors sufficient to weather art projects. The plan provides seating for 300 people, restrooms and an audio/visual system set up for training.

The building will serve a dual purpose, fulfilling the agency’s primary mission by providing for an expansion of essential services and counseling to families experiencing trauma. Plans call for providing classes where parents can learn more about trauma, how to help their child cope, how to model positive behaviors for their children and how to connect with them.

Plans also call for the new space to host group-based therapy sessions that would allow parents to learn from other parents and increase healthy social connections between parents.

“We want to be able to offer different types of services – maybe to offer parenting to some of our families, different types of support and groups for our families,” said Natalie Lopez, the agency’s clinical director. “A lot of times these kids come in, and their family members are also struggling with what has happened, and so it gives them the opportunity to meet other people that are going through similar things and to have them as support.”

According to Trendy Sharp, the agency’s executive director, the space would also host groups for specific populations of children where they could practice the skills learned in therapy. The agency provided 1,235 hours of direct service counseling services in fiscal year 2022.

“A nurturing attachment with a parent is going to help a child be successful,” Sharp said. “If a child knows they can go to their parent and tell them something is happening to them, the child is going to be safer and do better in the long run. But sometimes, adults need help learning how to do that because it doesn’t come naturally. We all parent the same way we were parented and sometimes, that might not be the best or healthiest way.”

The expanded services also plan includes therapeutic art activities, reading circles, drumming circles, and yoga classes, according to Lopez. The space needed for those programs is currently unavailable in the agency’s current digs.

“The new space would be more inviting, warm, and more therapeutic,” she said. “Eventually, the idea is to help families continue to protect their children, to keep them safe and help them be successful.”

Since the creation of the CACCC in 2005, the organization has provided thousands of children with forensic interviews, counseling sessions, medical examinations and case coordination services. During the 2022 fiscal year, the organization conducted 336 forensic interviews, with 68% involving sexual abuse and 32% related to physical and other abuse or risk.

For more information or to make a donation, visit Donors can designate funds go toward the building project.

The CACCC is a partner organization with the McKenna Foundation.

McKenna Foundation awards more than $1 million in grants to Comal County non-profit organizations

June 8, 2023

The McKenna Foundation awarded more than $1 million in grant funding to 12 organizations in Comal County in the first round of grantmaking the organization will undertake this year.

The Foundation awarded $300,000 to the Rock Haus Foundation to assist with improvements, renovations and construction for a planned multi-phase expansion project at the Comal County IDD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) Center on North Street in New Braunfels.

Plans are underway on renovating an existing building that will house the New Braunfels Independent School District’s transition program for special needs students ages 18-22. A second phase will include developing and constructing a community center to house area service providers, medical care, case managers and navigators, and a multi-purpose facility for recreation, education, meetings, conferences, plays and concerts.

Continuing its investment in housing initiatives as part of its basic living needs grant portfolio, the Foundation awarded $200,000 to NB Housing Partners as it transitions from a motel-based model to long-term space for its First Footing program. Renovations are underway at the former fire station on Loop 337 in New Braunfels for use as a permanent facility to house the city’s population experiencing homelessness.

The Salvation Army of New Braunfels was awarded $100,000 for its Home Sweet Home program, which provides services to assist people to move from homelessness to transitional and stable housing. They were also provided funds to help with a mission planning study to assess how best the agency can serve the community.

The Foundation also awarded basic living needs grants to Comal County Habitat for Humanity, Comal County Senior Citizens Foundation, Connections Individual and Family Services, Family Life Center of New Braunfels, Family Promise of Greater New Braunfels, Helping Hands Food Pantry, Provisions Outreach – the Bulverde Food Pantry, New Braunfels Food Bank and STEPS.

“During this grant cycle, we were fortunate to fund impactful work being done for our community through nonprofits in three of McKenna’s strategic initiative areas: hunger, housing and services for people with IDD,” said McKenna Foundation CEO Alice Jewell. “Our nonprofit community is growing and strengthening alongside our community through the development of infrastructure that provides for residents’ needs. We envision a community that cares for everyone in all ways and makes investments in people through partnership with these nonprofits.”

The Foundation’s board approved the grants during its June meeting.

McKenna’s basic living needs grant portfolio is designed to award funding to nonprofit organizations that assist individuals and families in crises with prevention, intervention and services that lead to decreased dependence and improved stability.

Funding areas include programs that provide financial assistance, workforce/employability, food assistance, housing instability/assistance and transportation.

Grant application windows for organizations seeking funding in the areas of health, education, family relationships and community development are upcoming. New and returning applicants are welcome to apply.

The Foundation accepts applications from verified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations serving New Braunfels and Comal County residents. In addition, the Foundation maintains a geographic limitation that requires grant funds to be used in Comal County.

The application window for grants in health (physical health, mental health, healthcare support services and access to care) and education (school readiness, education access and support, after-school programs and literacy programs) opens June 12, with applications due July 5.

The application window for grants in family relationships (child and youth development, parenting support, abuse/neglect prevention and senior services) and community development (arts programs, parks and recreation and development of public spaces and services) opens August 15, with applications due Sept. 9.

McKenna began making grants to community nonprofits in 2009 and has since awarded over 500 grants to 85 nonprofit organizations serving New Braunfels and Comal County residents.

Last year, the Foundation surpassed the $25 million mark in grant funding to nonprofits, awarding 36 grants totaling nearly $2 million.

Contact McKenna’s grant team at 830-606-9500 or email for more information. Visit the Foundation’s website at