More than 100 children have died in the Texas child welfare system since 2020, report says
(TEXAS GRANDSTAND) – More than 100 children have died in Texas since 2020 while in the state’s child welfare system, including two who died of complications from COVID-19, according to a report from the Texas Department of Family and Protective. Services provided to legislators on Friday.
Forty-four children died in 2020 and 38 in 2021 while in state custody, according to a DFPS report obtained by The Texas Tribune. The figures are comparable to those reported in previous years. Twenty-two children have died in the first three months of this year, roughly half the number of deaths in each of the previous five years.
The state cared for 45,870 children in 2021. Children who died last year represent about 0.08% of children in state care. Children in foster care are 42% more likely to die than children in the general population, according to a study by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania referenced in the DFPS report.
The report was produced in response to questions from a House Health Services Committee hearing last month. The hearing came after allegations of abuse at a state-licensed foster care facility in Bastrop renewed lawmakers’ interest in the state’s troubled child welfare system.
Most of the deaths listed in the report were attributed to “pre-existing medical conditions” or abuse suffered before the children entered the system. The report did not go into detail about what those conditions included. The state child welfare system often serves children with specialized medical and therapeutic needs.
Since 2020, six children have died by drowning. Six children died by suicide. A child died this year from a gunshot wound during a chase by law enforcement. Three died of physical abuse after running away from child protective services.
The report states that two children with pre-existing conditions died of complications from COVID-19 while in state custody; one in 2020 and one this year.
Last week, a federal judge overseeing an 11-year lawsuit against Texas on behalf of children in state custody questioned child welfare officials about the policy of vaccinating his children against the virus.
As of last week, about 35% of eligible young people in the state’s long-term foster care system were vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one dose, according to Liz Kromrei, director of services at Texas Child Protective Services. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack asked for the percentage of youngsters fully vaccinated, but the DFPS did not have that information at hand. Leaders said there was no official policy within the department, but they encouraged children to agree to be vaccinated.
Jack told DFPS leaders they shouldn’t allow very young children to refuse the vaccine and pointed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s recent non-binding legal opinion calling certain medical treatments affirming the kind of “abuse children”.
“According to the Texas Attorney General, they don’t have the ability to give medical consent until age 18,” Jack said.
The federal lawsuit to fix Texas’ long-term foster care system has been ongoing since 2011. Jack ruled in 2015 that the state violated the constitutional right of adoptive children to be safe from unreasonable risk of prejudice, claiming that children “often age”. heals more damaged than when they entered.
“It’s the safety of these children that’s at stake here,” Jack said during a hearing in federal court last year detailing deaths in the long-term foster care system. “It’s the most important thing we have … and I expect Texas to live up to its duty to keep these kids safe.”
As part of Jack’s orders to reform the system, the court set up two monitors to act as watchdogs on the system. Their duties include reviewing documents, interviews and other documents to identify system deficiencies.
The report provided to lawmakers summarized monitors’ fees since their inception in 2019. Over the past three years, monitors have billed the state nearly $29.5 million.
The two monitors, Deborah Fowler and Kevin Ryan, lead a team to probe the system. Fowler and Ryan were leading 38 other staff members at the start of January.
Court-approved rates are $85 per hour for associates, $120 per hour for junior employees, and up to $425 per hour for each of two monitors. There are rates between these amounts for other staff, based on their respective levels of education and experience, the report said.
State Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, who chairs the Social Services Committee and is a former adoptive parent, has publicly criticized the federal lawsuit and its monitors over the years.
Frank has previously said that although the monitors have caught foster care providers who have harmed children in the system, the lawsuit is causing more harm than good and believes the amount of money the monitors win discourages them from making real progress that would make their jobs gone.
Jack and the attorneys representing the adopted children in the lawsuit fiercely defended the court monitors and said many cases of neglect and abuse would have gone unnoticed if it was for their work. This includes recent allegations of sexual abuse at The Refuge, a state-approved foster care facility in Bastrop.
The judge expressed the need to address some of the controllers’ many issues as soon as possible, encouraging the formation of an expert panel to provide system-wide recommendations.
“I don’t want to spend another 20 years,” she said at the final court hearing. “I don’t think I have another 20 years to spend supervising this case.”
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