The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is in the hot seat after a recent sex-trafficking scandal showed just a sneak peek at injustices against children in the foster care system.
Earlier this month a report out of Bastrop County accused employers at The Refuge, a residential treatment center contracted by the DFPS of sex trafficking girls ages 11-17.
Despite the Texas Rangers releasing a statement on Thursday denying the claims at the facility for lack of evidence, Jamie Masters, commissioner of DFPS confirmed the facility’s employees were sending nude photos of the young girls for money and or drugs in January of this year.
According to Masters, a Child Protective Services supervisor was supposed to report the incident higher up the chain of command, but was “disengaged.”
In a tweet on Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sided with Texas Rangers tweeting “many people jumped to conclusions.”
Nevertheless, in a press conference on Wednesday in front of the state’s DFPS headquarters Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and other leaders called out Abbott for his inaction.
“Took them a month and a half to take those young girls out of that specific facility,” O’Rourke said. “I wish this were an anomaly within the state of Texas and this administration, but as you know it is not.”
State Senator Sarah Eckhardt also highlighted Abbott’s consistent refusal to accept federal funding even though the number of displaced children has grown significantly over the years.
“The department is spending hundreds of millions of dollars and yet non-profits that are experts in the field and can provide the services to these children are closing,” Eckhardt said. “Children are still in offices, hotel rooms, they are being carted out of state sometimes in restraints like they’re animals. Children are going to the hospital with serious injuries while they are in child protective custody. The governor’s office of child sex-trafficking has 3.5 million dollars and yet children in state custody are trafficked for sex right under his nose.”
According to reports, there are over 30,000 Texas kids in the foster care system with many complicated cases, former CPS caseworker Candace Henson added.
“I finally left CPS when I felt I could no longer honor my ethics while remaining there,” Henson said. “The placement crisis, the ongoing lawsuit, the ever-expanding administrative requirements, and the culture of passing the buck took the focus off the important work of helping families develop their capacities to keep their children safe and this made thoughtful and engaged casework practically impossible.”
Additionally, Houston Minister Theresa Allen spoke about her firsthand experience in the system after her grandchildren were taken from her care in 2009.
In 2011, Allen was reunited with her grandchildren but had to overcome another obstacle of working through their traumas while in foster care.
“While in foster care my grandson was placed on several psychotropic drugs because he continued to voice his request to come home,” Allen said. “ When I finally got my grandchildren back he couldn’t eat because the side effects of the medication caused severe psychosis. My granddaughter, she couldn’t sleep within 15-minute increments because she would wake up with severe anxiety and nightmares.”
After their traumatic experience, Allen started the non-profit organization Freedom Fighters for Families which focuses on reuniting families in the foster care system.
Still, O’Rourke also said his main priorities on fixing the system were to keep children with their families, use federal funds, invest in access to mental healthcare, and hire more caseworkers.
“We have to have more resources that is clear, but we also have to have a governor who’s focused on correcting the problem and holding those responsible accountable,” O’Rourke said. “Why are we privatizing the care for the most vulnerable in this state? You are bound to have problems like this when you outsource the state of Texas’ responsibility.”
Beto O’Rourke Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons