Brandon Logan, a foster care reform advocate and father of five, is using his own experience of a fatherless childhood to improve the lives of Texas children.
When Brandon Logan graduated from the Texas Tech University School of Law in 2001, he had no way of knowing his work would eventually lead him to the state capitol to advocate for the rights of foster children and families.
The first cases he handled focused on insurance claims and coverage. It wasn't long before he transitioned into family litigation, representing families and children in Abilene, many of whom were a part of the Texas foster care system.
“I fell in love with that work. I felt for the first time I was accomplishing something, that what I did had a purpose,” Logan said. “At the same time, I felt completely and totally unprepared based on my education and my experience up to that point. I spent the next 10 years developing that skill set.”
In 2013, he made the decision to return to Texas Tech to pursue a doctorate degree in human development.
“I'm tired of fighting case-by-case,” Logan recalls thinking. “I'm going to go back to graduate school to get skills on digesting and presenting research so I can change things at the system level.”
Now, he has the chance to put what he's learned in and out of the classroom to use as director of the new Center for Families and Children at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit conservative think tank in Austin.
Though he's been in the position less than a month, Logan has already met with key decisionmakers to provide feedback on what is needed in foster care reform. He also is meeting with other stakeholders interested in reforming the system.
As a doctoral student and instructor in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), Logan's research over the past three years has included a focus on policies passed by the Texas Legislature. He said he hopes his work will help legislators and agencies create informed guidelines and procedures in the upcoming legislative session. He also plans to write policy briefs that will help counsel lawmakers as bills make their way through the system.
“This is an exciting time for child welfare and family policy and research,” Logan said. “The importance and specialization of child welfare law is beginning to be recognized both nationally and statewide.”
The turning point for reform in Texas came in December, Logan said, when U.S. District Judge Janis Jack of Corpus Christi issued an opinion against the state foster care system. In the ruling, Jack not only called the system broken, she said it's been that way for decades, putting about 12,000 Texas children in danger each year.
“That sort of shocked everybody,” Logan said. “It didn't shock me. She identified things I had seen for 12 years and had been dealing with for 12 years, but now something will be done about it by court order.”
Logan said the ruling gave Texas lawmakers the push to take another hard look at possible solutions to ensure the safety and well-being of children within the system. It's the perfect time to address the policies, legislation and the training of workers in child welfare, teaching, therapy and medicine that need improvement, he said.
“All of a sudden there was all this interest in Austin for foster care reform,” Logan said. “I found out the Texas Public Policy Foundation was interested in adding a children's policy center to their ongoing work so that they're in a position to contribute to foster care reform in the upcoming session that starts in January.”
During his law career, there have been several times he saw issues that could have been corrected or fixed if there had been better training and accountability within the foster care system. Two cases in particular acted as the catalyst for Logan's decision to pursue the additional knowledge and skills a doctorate degree would give him.
The first was the 2008 mass removal of children from the Yearning for Zion compound in Eldorado and their subsequent warehousing in the San Angelo Coliseum. The other was the death of 22-month-old Tamryn Klapheke in 2012 at Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene.
Logan said the first case demonstrated the lack of thought given to children and how they cope with being removed from a closed, protective system and into what amounts to a warehouse. The second, he said, showed the failure of a system that had tasked Child Protective Services with monitoring a family after identifying them as at-risk several times before the child's death.
“It was apparent the system didn't work well,” Logan said.
Logan left Abilene soon after, moving his wife, Mindy, and their five children, Zane, 9; Sawyer, 6; Jax, 5; Finley, 3; and Huxley, 2, to Lubbock. His work as an attorney continued with a smaller, part-time private practice. Logan's clients included about 15 minors and foster parents in Lubbock and the surrounding area who he represented in adoption cases at the South Plains Foster Care Court.
His real-world experience gave him material to draw on as an instructor and his students often reviewed actual cases, providing feedback and possible solutions.
“Brandon's professional experiences give him a unique perspective as he pursues his doctoral degree in HDFS,” Malinda Colwell, graduate program adviser, said. “His approach to research questions is informed by his work with clients and various social service agencies. He is able to make clear connections between theoretical positions and practical issues related to family welfare.”
Logan said he hopes his research at Texas Tech and work in Austin will lead to programs that train practitioners how to handle traumatized and abused children. The training would not stop with social workers, but extend to doctors, lawyers, teachers and others who need specialized training.
Situations like those in Eldorado or Abilene are often made worse not by people with bad intentions, Logan said, but by those who had been trained incorrectly or were poorly informed. Others follow outdated policies or laws that are insufficient for the problem at hand.
“CPS is not out to harm others,” Logan said. “Caseworkers are here to help, and when something goes wrong it has more to do with bad policies and lack of resources.”
He also wants to work on identifying families before abuse or neglect occurs and provide support and services that can stop the cycle. In studying community-based systems in Florida, he said he's found it's more useful to utilize community partners who can offer preventative services instead of introducing a family into the foster care system.
“I'm hoping if we destigmatize at-risk families, people will reach out in love and not accusation,” Logan said. “I'm hoping, at least, concerned citizens have someone other than CPS to call and say, ‘Can you check up on this?' and then help can be offered instead of punishment.”
It's an important distinction, Logan said, considering that the majority of cases that are categorized as neglect are not referring to physical or sexual abuse, but instead are because of factors like substance abuse or a lack of food, housing, transportation or utilities.
“Some of what we're seeing being called neglect is actually poverty, and rather than dealing with the poverty, we're going down the rabbit hole of parental neglect,” Logan said.
Logan said another factor in child abuse is the lack of a biological father in the home. His research focuses on ways of engaging fathers not just in the family but also in family services.
“My interest goes back to being from a broken home,” said Logan, who was raised by a single mother. “The presence of a relationship between a biological father and the child is a protective factor against child abuse and neglect.”
Research shows there also is a sense of redemption for men who come from a fatherless home and then become fathers themselves, Logan said. It's a feeling he's familiar with now as a father to his five children. The feeling extends to the hundreds of children he's represented as guardian and to the thousands of children within the foster care system for which he will now advocate.
“I have four boys and I want them to have a good example of fathering,” Logan said. “I had that in a grandfather, which I was blessed to have. Based on my experience, I think children need some sort of positive male influence, especially boys.”
Logan said he's looking forward to putting all of the research and experience to use as director of the center in Austin. He said he believes he's finally where he's supposed to be.
“Thankfully, I have a wife and family who support my crazy ideas,” Logan said. “I'm as hopeful as I've been in 12 years that something positive is actually going to happen for children in CPS and not just children in the system, but also families that are identified by the system.”