By: Ramsey Nichols
According to a report published in May 2022 by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, in the fiscal year 2021, 1,695 unique children and youth went missing while in the care of TxDFPS, with 80% of the missing youth between the ages of 14 and 17. “Missing” just means the child left the facility where they lived and was unaccounted for. Sometimes the child was located and returned to TxDFPS care, only to leave again during the year. In the fiscal year 2021, TxDFPS had a total of 3,528 times a child was “missing.”
Once a “missing” youth turns 18, TxDFPS petitions the court to remove the Department as the child’s legal guardian. However, Texas Public Radio reported in July 2022 that TxDFPS has also petitioned the courts to remove the Department as legal guardians of approximately 170 youth under the age of 18 over the last five years who were part of the “missing” numbers. Since these youths are juveniles, reasons for the recommended termination of guardianship are withheld.
We interviewed a young lady who wished to remain anonymous but described what happened when she entered the Texas Foster Care system at age 13 and has since aged out of the system. Being a teenager at the time, she was placed in a co-ed group home with boys and girls from ages 13 through 17. During her time there, she was raped by one of the older boys, but when she complained to the “house mother,” she was transferred to another group home further away from her family. Various forms of abuse continued at the second group home, and she was transferred again, even farther away from her original family. By the time she turned 18 and aged out of the system, she had been transferred from group home to group home four times and was over 250 miles from where her relatives lived.
She lost contact with her CASA worker and was too far from the original court to request any transitional services from the court, not to mention the group home was not providing any transitional services. When she aged out, she was left to fend for herself and ended up on the streets prostituting to get enough money to survive. The group home did not prepare her for becoming an adult and she had lost all of her support structure.
In another case, a juvenile reported having to steal food to have enough to eat because the adults in charge were rationing the food. Group trips to the store resulted in $30 to $40 each in extra food and/or personal care items stolen from store owners.
Then, on March 30, 2022, Federal Judge Janis Jack was outraged at the allegations of child pornography and sex trafficking at The Refuge group home in Bastrop, Texas. According to The Texas Tribune, court monitors found evidence to support allegations of child sex abuse and exploitation against vulnerable youth.
Just this year in Harris County, Fox News reports a Texas CPS worker was fired in August 2022 after suggesting a 14-year-old girl become a prostitute to earn money. The very people who are supposed to be setting up a support structure to protect our youth have very low expectations of the child’s future.
In an attempt to find more placements for Texas youth, TxDFPS began placing children in unlicensed facilities such as hotels and Department offices and placed youth in out-of-state facilities. According to the Texas Tribune, TxDFPS sent 106 children to a facility in Michigan and by January 2022, the State realized the facility didn’t have heat or a front door to block out the winter. Federal Judge Jack has court monitors who are monitoring TxDFPS’ efforts to reduce the number of children placed out-of-state or in unlicensed facilities.
The difficulty TxDFPS has in managing the care of teens ages 14 to 17, could explain why the grandmother of the Uvalde school shooter was unable to shed light on her problems with her grandson. When Celia “Sally” Gonzales was interviewed, she stated that she had asked multiple State and local agencies for assistance with her grandson, Salvador Ramos, now known as the “Uvalde school shooter.” After two years of trying to get assistance, Ms. Gonzales was unable to get the help she needed, even from TxDFPS.
With over 13,000 employees in the State of Texas, TxDFPS still cannot do a better job of ensuring the safety of teens than an average parent. Instead, the Department has become invasive and encumbers families that really don’t need any input, services, or official interference.
In the meantime, the 2022 terminations and resignations are continuing at TxDFPS:
-Two unnamed employees were fired based on their handling of The Refuge in Bastrop, TX
-Justin Lewis, Director of Child Care Investigations, resigned
-Robert “Rich” Richman, Associate Commissioner of Child Care Investigations, resigned
-Brenda Watkins, Director of TxDFPS Region 8, resigned
-Morgan Davis, CPS Investigator, resigned
-Shelby McCowen, CPS Investigator, resigned
-Randa Mulanax, CPS Investigator, resigned
-Many other investigators statewide also resigned
Employees resigning from TxDFPS have cited everything from communication issues within the Department to the Department’s internal policies, including the enforcement of Greg Abbott’s orders to investigate transgender parents.
As caseloads are divided among fewer investigators, these resignations hurt children of all ages, not just the teens.
Under Gov. Abbott’s orders, any report of gender transitioning or reassignment surgeries warrant a high level of priority and are considered immediate harm to a child. However, investigators are needed to handle the existing caseload.
TxDFPS has a biennial budget of $4.5 Billion (only $2.6 Billion funded by the State of Texas), while Commissioner Jaime Masters’ annual salary is $235,500. Their budget covers Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services in the State of Texas. They have the ability to hire the personnel to provide oversight in these group homes.