SAN ANTONIO – A federal court document is revealing a ‘troubled history’ at one of The Children’s Shelter’s facilities that continued even after its closure.
The Children’s Shelter and Family Tapestry, a division of the shelter that holds a contract with the state to find foster placements and adoptive homes for children in Bexar county, have been under the close scrutiny of the Texas Department of Protective and Family Services for at least nine months.
The report filed on Tuesday, as part of a 2011 lawsuit regarding the foster care system in Texas, outlines the brief but troubled history of the Whataburger Center for Children and Youth.
The campus, which sits on High Ridge Circle in the Medical Center, opened in February of 2019 to provide temporary residential care for children and young adults.
The center was placed on heightened monitoring in June 2020 after numerous allegations of abuse, neglect and standards violations, according to the report filed by court-appointed monitors.
The monitors are required to keep track of conditions at shelters and organizations in charge of placements, including DFPS, as part of the decade-old lawsuit against the state, the Health and Human Services Commission and DFPS.
According to the document, one of the investigations, which was opened in April 2019, included allegations that a 16-year-old boy was having a sexual relationship with a female staff member.
The Whataburger Center was repeatedly cited “for violations after it was placed on heightened monitoring,” according to the report.
Several abuse or neglect investigations were also opened after the center was placed on heightened monitoring, including a 12-year-old girl’s report in 2020 that she had been sexually assaulted by a 17-year-old boy. The incident resulted in three citations.
In September 2020, the Whataburger Center was placed on probation and it was no longer allowed to accept children.
In October 2020, Family Tapestry notified DFPS that it was having trouble finding placements for “emergency referred youth.” In a letter from Family Tapestry to DFPS, it said that “two minor youth have stayed overnight at the Family Tapestry Intake Center (which, notably, while connected to the Whataburger Center for Children and Youth, is not part of the Whataburger Center).”
In January, the Whataburger Center voluntarily relinquished its license as a General Residential Operation and closed as state regulators were getting ready to revoke its license.
According to DFPS, Family Tapestry continued to use the Whataburger Center to temporarily house children despite it not being a licensed facility.
Children’s Shelter President and CEO Annette Rodriguez pushed back on that claim during a virtual press conference Wednesday morning and said the confusion stemmed from the campus having a single building with shared space.
She said children that would normally spend just a few hours in its intake center were instead staying much longer, at times, because of difficulties in placing them elsewhere.
A sign posted on a gate outside the complex Tuesday said Family Tapestry’s intake center had been moved to Child Protective Services offices on Southeast Military Drive.
Rodriguez, who claimed during the presser that her organization has a 99.4% safety record, acknowledged some of the issues present at the shelter’s facilities.
Rodriguez said staff have at times not followed protocol, children have run away and their have been fights among youth at the shelter’s facilities.
Rodriguez, however, declined to release details about five calls to police for sex offenses at Children’s Shelter facilities since the start of February.
She said if an allegation is made by a child in their care, they are required to notify the authorities and that she was under the belief that many of these cases are still under investigation.
“None of these things are okay. None of these things are ever okay,” said Rodriguez.
She said the lawsuit has contributed to heightened monitoring at the shelter’s facilities and at other agencies statewide.
HHSC cited Family Tapestry for operating illegally in October 2020 and December 2020, according to the report.
From October 2020 to March 2021 there were approximately 70 reports “related to allegations of abuse or neglect, runaway children, and allegations of minimum standards violations associated with Family Tapestry’s use of the Intake Center and later, the unlicensed Whataburger Center to house children,” the report states.
The state shut down the intake center, also known as the Whataburger Center, toward the end of March.
On April 22, Rodriguez was notified that a placement hold was being issued by the state and that all children at its emergency shelter had to be removed from its care.
Overall, the court monitors’ report states that they are worried about children at similar facilities across the state.
“In sum, despite the Court enjoining the State ‘from placing children in permanent management conservatorship (”PMC”) in placements that create an unreasonably risk of serious harm,’ the State of Texas appears to have done so repeatedly, with serious, harmful consequences to the children in its care,” stated the report.
Rodriguez said her agency has brought on additional executives on board to help run Family Tapestry and that her organization has submitted an action plan to DFPS which is now under review.
“There is movement and actions already taken to move forward,” said Rodriguez, who called on the Texas Legislature to hold an emergency session to deal with ongoing capacity issues with the state’s foster care system.