AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is addressing claims that children in its care were being assaulted.
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition held a press conference Wednesday to discuss a video of a child in a DFPS placement being repeatedly assaulted by another child. In the video, the coalition said a CPS worker stood by and didn’t intervene.
DFPS confirmed the incident shown in the video obtained by the coalition took place in April 2021 at Royalwood Church in Houston, during supervision of youth without placement.
In a release before the press conference, the national field director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Bishop Travis Grant, said the video was an example of a “system running amok.”
“The trauma these children have already endured is now being exacerbated by lack of appropriate oversight and accountability,” Grant said.
“The horrific video is the end result of a failed system that is undeniably broken,” said Dr. Candice Matthews, the Statewide Steering Committee Chair for Rainbow Push Coalition and Texas Minority Providers Association.
DFPS says it’s working to solve issues with the system.
“Child safety is DFPS’ top concern for children without placement (CWOP), as well as the security of DFPS staff,” DFPS told KXAN. “The number of CWOP who are staying in alternate locations is declining.”
Earlier this year, a Travis County judge sanctioned DFPS for violating a 2007 standing order that prevented the agency from placing foster children at office buildings for overnight stays. For years, CWOP have had to spend time living in offices, hotels and other unlicensed facilities when DFPS could not find them placement in a foster home, shelter or treatment facility.
DFPS noted a distinct increase in CWOP last fall, with even more of an increase in spring 2021.
Several factors contributed to an increase in CWOP, including the COVID-19 pandemic, stricter regulation from DFPS and the Health and Human Services Commission and children refusing placement in order to remain in CWOP, it said.
On Wednesday, DFPS told KXAN the number of CWOP has since gone down from 416 in July to 235 in November.
“Work continues nonstop to find solutions,” said Mark Wilson, a media relations specialist with DFPS.
Of the 235 CWOP, there were only eight foster youth in CPS offices across the state.
“CWOP is and has been my number one priority. We have to fix this for the children and youth in care, obviously, but also for our employees who are literally working 24 hours a day to staff CWOP,” Commissioner Jaime Masters said.
According to DFPS, work is being done to address issues with the system:
- Forty-six new “sub-acute” beds” have been developed by DFPS, for foster children and young people coming out of psychiatric hospitals
- On Sept. 30, CPS completed a detailed history and summary of every child that is currently in CWOP
- DFPS says each region will hold a “drill down” meeting with the youth and everyone involved in his/her care, caseworkers, placement team members, and other stakeholders in the case, such as CASA and the child’s attorney ad litem.
- During these focused meetings, DFPS said placement options will be discussed with the youth to determine goals, find family members and identify connections with other adults.
- During the second Special Session, the Texas Legislature appropriated $90 million to provide rate increases and flexible funding to increase capacity, in addition to the $55 million appropriated by the Legislature in the regular session.
- DFPS said one of Masters’ priorities has been to ensure all children in Texas are protected, but that DFPS must use more caution and common sense when deciding if a child is removed into state custody due to extreme abuse or neglect.
- To support that effort, DFPS said if investigators want to remove a child at least 12 or older, the director of that geographical region must approve.
- Since June, DFPS says it has developed 138 new licensed, permanent capacity beds
- All of these beds are for children and young people in foster care who have high needs.