CORPUS CHRISTI – Editor’s note: Some of the details in the report may be disturbing or hard to read for some viewers.
Twenty-three foster care children in Texas have died the past 21 months while in state custody, according to a massive report filed Tuesday as part of a decade-old federal lawsuit.
While locations and identities were not provided for most of the deaths, the report does detail suicide attempts, sexual misconduct reports and other issues at Bexar County facilities.
The report also shows that 12% of the nearly 10,000 children who are in state custody are from Bexar County, more than any other county in Texas, including larger Harris and Dallas counties. Harris County has more than twice as many people.
The report and two appendices — completed by monitors assigned by the federal court and totaling well over 500 pages — outlined progress and notable failures among the entities that make up the state’s foster care fabric. (You can read the report in full at the bottom of this article.)
The class-action lawsuit, filed by a child advocacy group more than 10 years ago, remains ongoing despite the state’s repeated attempts to institute court-ordered reforms.
While many of the children who died had significant medical issues, six deaths were attributed to caregivers who abused or neglected the child in connection to his or her death. Abuse from a caregiver is considered likely in a seventh death, records show.
Other deaths include a child who drowned and another child who ran away from care and was later found murdered on the side of a road, the report states.
Another child, a 14-year-old girl, hanged herself at a facility northwest of Austin.
A subsequent investigation found that the girl had been left alone in a bathroom for 30 minutes, despite a long history of suicidal behavior and a treatment plan that required her to be monitored by staff at all times.
The report did note some improvements within the Department of Family and Protective Services, including caseload figures for caseworkers that are more often conforming to the court’s requirements.
As of the end of 2020, there were 9,820 children in the state’s care, commonly called a Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC).
Twelve percent of all child removals state-wide took place in Bexar County, according to figures available as of that date. That figure was the highest among all Texas counties, with Harris County accounting for 11 percent of removals.
The report also found that more than 12 percent of children in the state’s care had a history of sexual abuse.
As part of the court’s ongoing efforts to repair the state’s foster care system, the state is now required to provide details of sexual abuse and sexually aggressive behavior in a child’s placement summary form, according to the report.
Troubled history of San Antonio facilities
The report also included specific narratives about failures at foster care facilities across the state, including here in San Antonio.
At The Children’s Shelter Whataburger Center, which relinquished its state license in early January, a 16-year-old in their care attempted suicide by ingesting a metal bolt.
The subsequent investigation of the incident by the state was deficient, the report states, because key individuals were never interviewed and the investigator did not adequately look into whether the child was properly supervised prior to the suicide attempt, according to the report.
The report submitted in federal court also detailed a second incident at the Whataburger Center last June.
A 15-year-old girl used a spring from a toilet paper holder to harm herself in her breast area, the report states.
After the teen was taken to a psychiatric facility, she ran away from staff and picked up a glass bottle from a construction site and threatened to harm herself again.
The monitor’s report described the incident as “neglectful supervision.”
Last month, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services issued a placement hold on The Children’s Shelter emergency shelter, requiring all children in its care to be moved to other facilities.
Facility leadership was required to submit an action plan to the state on how it plans to improve conditions at the facility and within Family Tapestry, its wing responsible for carrying out its community based care mission.
The federal court report also detailed a March 2020 complaint at The Children’s Shelter, in which an 8-year-old disclosed that six children under the age of 10 had engaged in sexual contact under their beds at the shelter.
The report included allegations that two of the children engaged in a sex act.
The subsequent investigation by the state was determined to be deficient, due to missing and flawed interviews.
The investigator also failed to document any evidence that checks on the children were performed properly, the report states.
A spokeswoman for The Children’s Shelter said Wednesday that President and CEO Annette Rodriguez was not available for an interview.
Two other San Antonio facilities, the Hector Garza Residential Treatment Center and the Mission Road Developmental Center, were also listed in the report due to allegations of inappropriate behavior from staff and assaults among children being housed there.
DFPS officials have stopped placing children at Hector Garza RTC, the report states.