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Over 100 children have perished in Texas’ child welfare system since 2020, research says

A report from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services shows that more than 100 children have died in the state’s child welfare system since 2020, including two who died from COVID-19 problems.

According to a DFPS study obtained by The Texas Tribune, 44 children died in 2020 and 38 died in 2021 while in the state’s custody. The numbers recorded are in line with those from last year and the year before. Approximately half as many children have died in the first three months of this year as have died in the preceding five years put together.

 

In 2021, the state provided care for 45,870 youngsters. Last year, 0.08 percent of youngsters in the care of the state died. According to research by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, children in foster care are 42 percent more likely to die than children in the general community.

A House Health Services Committee hearing prompted the publication of this report. An investigation into claims of abuse at a Bastrop, Texas-licensed foster care facility sparked a fresh focus on child welfare in the state.

Some deaths were linked to children’s “pre-existing medical issues” or maltreatment that occurred before they were placed in care. The conditions mentioned in the study were not described in any depth in the document. Numerous children in the state’s child welfare system have specific medical and therapeutic needs.

At least six children have drowned in the United States since 2020. Six young people took their own lives. This year, a police chase resulted in the death of a youngster who was shot in the chest. Three people died after escaping from Child Protective Services because of physical abuse.

One child died in 2020 from COVID-19 issues while in state custody, while the other one died this year.

In an 11-year-old case filed on behalf of Texas’ foster children, a federal judge this week interrogated the state’s child welfare officials about the policy of vaccinating those children against the virus.

According to Liz Kromrei, director of services at Texas Child Protective Services, roughly 35 percent of eligible long-term foster care children have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The percentage of completely vaccinated children requested by U.S. District Judge Janis Jack was not available from DFPS. Leaders stated that the department did not have a clear policy, but they did encourage parents to agree to vaccinate their children.

According to Jack, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s recent non-binding legal ruling declaring certain gender-affirming medical treatments “child abuse” is a good reason not to allow very young children to decline the vaccine.

In Jack’s opinion, the age at which a person can legally give informed consent for medical treatment is 18.

Keeping tabs on the costs

Since 2011, a federal lawsuit aimed at reforming Texas’ long-term foster care system has been ongoing. On the grounds that children “often age out of care worse damaged than when they arrived,” Jack found in 2015 that the state was violating foster children’s right to be protected from the unreasonable danger of harm.

“The safety of these children is at issue here,” Jack said at a federal court hearing last year documenting the deaths in the long-term foster care system. What we have at our disposal is critical, and I expect Texas to uphold its end of the bargain and protect these children.”

Jack ordered the court to implement two monitors to keep an eye on the system as part of his reforms. Investigating the system for flaws requires hours of sifting through papers, talking to witnesses, and conducting other forms of research.

Legislators were given a summary of the fees paid to monitors since the program began in 2019. The monitors have billed the state about $29.5 million in the last three years.

Deborah Fowler and Kevin Ryan, the team’s monitors, are in charge of probing the system. As of early January, Fowler and Ryan were in charge of 38 other employees.

Associate personnel is paid $85 per hour, the junior staff is paid $120 per hour, and monitors are paid up to $425 per hour, according to rates allowed by the court. According to the article, there are other staff employees who are paid between those two figures, depending on their degree of education and experience.

R-Wichita Falls State Rep. James Frank is chairman of the human services committee and a previous foster parent. He’s been openly hostile to federal lawsuits and their monitors for many years.

Even though the monitors have identified foster care providers who have caused harm to children, Frank believes the lawsuit is doing more harm than good and that the money the monitors are making discourages them from making meaningful progress, which would render their role obsolete.

If it weren’t for court monitors, many incidents of neglect or abuse would have gone undiscovered in foster care, according to the attorneys for the children involved in the lawsuit. In addition to the recent allegations of sex abuse at The Refuge, a state-licensed foster care institution in Bastrop, Texas,

As a result of this, the court has called for the formation of an expert group to make system-wide suggestions to address some of the many issues raised by monitors.

In the most recent court appearance, she remarked, “I don’t want to spend another 20 years.” It’s unlikely that I’ll have another 20 years of my life left to devote to this investigation.

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