AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than a decade after a federal lawsuit was filed over the treatment of children in the Texas foster care system, a new report highlights challenges still remaining to prevent abuse.
It is the fourth report filed by the court monitors — two people appointed to oversee the state’s child welfare system as the lawsuit proceeds. The filing comes just days before the next hearing in the ongoing lawsuit, scheduled in U.S. District Judge Janis Jack’s courtroom on Monday.
The Monitors’ latest report identifies areas of progress, but also areas where they say “the State continues to struggle” with implementing the court’s orders and keeping children safe while they are in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
The 200-page report details data and progress on more than a dozen of the court’s orders for the agency: from implementing oversight, unannounced visits to facilities that require “awake-night supervision” to offering training on preventing sexual abuse.
For example, the report explains that DFPS data shows that 99% of caseworkers completed training on how to recognize and report sexual abuse. A random sample of more than 200 caseworkers by the monitoring team confirmed all of them had completed the training.
Several of the court orders are aimed at better tracking and documenting allegations of sexual abuse where the child is the victim, as well as allegations of the child being the “aggressor.” The monitoring team found no instances where DFPS had failed to appropriately indicate the child as a confirmed victim of sexual abuse.
Of the more than 400 children identified as victims of sexual abuse in 2021, the report found 25% were victimized in foster care or revictimized after entering foster care.
The report notes that this is a “slight increase” from the monitors’ second report, filed last May.
Of the 147 sexual abuse incidents that occurred after the child entered foster care, almost half happened while a child was on “runaway status.”
Explore the full report here. Story continues below…
The monitors released this report alongside a separate document, which calls for an investigation into what they say “appears to be a systemic problem” with runaways from a specific, licensed facility in Bastrop that houses underage sex trafficking victims. Their filing details new allegations about children in the care of The Refuge for DMST (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking).
“The experiences of the children who were able to run from the facility and fall back into trafficking show the dangers associated with failing to address what may be a systemic threat to child safety,” the document states.
Brooke Crowder, founder and CEO of The Refuge told KXAN in response to the report:
It’s a well-documented, sad fact of life that running away is a default coping mechanism for children who have experienced trauma, so The Refuge has always applied prevailing best practices to predict and prevent it. (According to an HHS study, 44% of children in specialized foster care for youth with severe emotional or behavioral issues ran away at least once in the study’s timeframe.) In response to an uptick in runaway episodes in 2021, we updated our procedures, adopting a new standard approach to restraint known as “Handle with Care.” With its stronger emphasis on de-escalation, the new standard helped us reduce incidents. We are grateful that the court monitors are shining a light on the challenge of runaways so that people can understand the unique challenges related to the care of trafficking-traumatized children. We hope the powers that be will devote the same attention to the arrest of the perpetrator who remains at large 130 days after we reported her for exploiting youth in her care.
A spokesperson for Texas DFPS said they had no comment on the filings.
KXAN will be covering the hearing in Judge Jack’s court this coming Monday and will update this article with new details.