Texas Foster Care System (**Updated w/Pics**)

Home Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller

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For Immediate Release: Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Contact: Mark Sanders 512-463-4070

Comptroller Strayhorn Laments “Forgotten Children”

In State’s Foster Care System, Outlines Massive Overhaul

Replace State Caseworkers with Enforcement Staff, Yank Licenses of Poor Caregivers, Bring Care Standards to Humane Levels

(Austin)–Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn today called for a massive overhaul of the state’s foster care system in a special report, “Forgotten Children,” which details a widespread crisis in Texas’ foster care system.


“They are everybody’s children and nobody’s children,” Strayhorn said. “They are the forgotten children in the foster care system. Some of them find homes with caring foster parents, or in treatment centers with experienced and caring providers, and some do not. Some children have been moved among 30, 40, or even more all-too-temporary ‘homes.’ Some have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused while in the system; some have run away and joined the ranks of the missing. A few have even died at the hands of those entrusted with their care.

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"Play area" or "fort" according to caseworker at therapeutic foster camp.

“This report gives these children something they need — a voice,” she said. “This investigation turned this One Tough Grandma into One Heartbroken Grandma.”

“The truth is that some of these children are no better off in the care of the state than they were in the hands of abusive and negligent parents,” Strayhorn said.

Among the dozens of recommendations are:

  • Eliminate the inefficient dual system of foster care — one that is run by the state — creating a conflict of interest in which the agency regulates itself.
  • Direct and redirect $193.9 million in savings to better care for children by replacing state caseworkers with independent oversight enforcement staff.
  • Move, immediately, children out of all therapeutic camps that do not meet licensing standards for Permanent Therapeutic Camps.
  • Raise standards across the board to humane levels.
  • Revoke the licenses of facilities that have ongoing problems affecting the health, safety and well being of children.
  • Educate foster care children about free higher education tuition eligibility.
  • Develop a Foster Grandma and Foster Grandpa program to mentor and support the children.

“I am appalled at the conditions too many of our foster children must endure,” Strayhorn said. “I challenge any defender of the current system’s status quo to put their child or their grandchild in some of the places I’ve seen for one day, much less for a lifetime.”

"Pee wall" next to sleeping quarters at therapeutic foster camp.
"Pee wall" next to sleeping quarters at therapeutic foster camp.

Responsibility for the broken foster care system rests with state government and the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS), now called the Department of Family and Protective Services.

In fiscal 2003 alone, 26,133 children were in foster care. The state pays from $20 per day per child all the way up to $277 per day for a child with complex needs.

“The agency tolerates vast disparities in the quality of the services it purchases,” Strayhorn said. “It uses taxpayer dollars inefficiently and fails to take advantage of federal funding. It offers caregivers a perverse financial incentive to keep children in expensive, restrictive placements.

“I saw children on alarming amounts of psychotropic medications and children who have not seen their caseworker in months,” she said.

“We must end the current system that has the fox guarding the hen house,” Strayhorn said. “We cannot tolerate a system where regulators regulate themselves.”

Problems in DPRS include inefficient use of taxpayer dollars, inadequate licensing and contracting standards, ineffective investigations, heavy caseloads and high employee turnover, which prevent the agency from closely watching over the children in their care.

Isolation area to punish foster children in attic with lock on outside of door.
Isolation area to punish foster children in attic with lock on outside of door.

“I saw filthy living conditions, make-shift outhouses, unsanitary food storage, in so-called outdoor camps where children must sleep in sleeping bags – no walls, no fans, no heat – for months and months, and in many cases, year after year. That’s not care. That’s cruelty. That’s not educating. That’s endangering,” Strayhorn said.

Water hole where children at therapeutic foster camp are forced to shower year round.
Water hole where children at therapeutic foster camp are forced to shower year round.

Strayhorn’s report uncovers the harsh realities of the current foster care system and makes key recommendations aimed at improving the entire system. She recommends that the state raise the bar on quality, make the foster care system more accountable, ensure the health and safety of all foster care children, and provide a brighter future for foster children.

Strayhorn said she did find facilities that did treat children well.

Sleeping facilities outside at therapeutic foster camp.
Sleeping facilities outside at therapeutic foster camp.

“In each and every instance where children were getting the best care, the care givers are working closely and openly with the community,” Strayhorn said. “Each facility needs that close relationship, operating in the sunshine, and support from the communities they serve. Without that relationship, the children suffer.”

It has been said that any society can be judged by how it treats its weakest members. My investigation shows that Texas can and must be judged harshly,” Strayhorn said. “Foster care in this state has been studied time and time again; reports are issued, promises are made, and the children continue to suffer. That’s unacceptable.”

Strayhorn said she planned to monitor changes made, or not made, as a result of this special report and “for the sake of our forgotten children, I will report back to the people of Texas, in six weeks and six months and as long as it takes to fix this broken system and save all of our children.”

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For Immediate Release:
Friday, June 23, 2006
Contact: Will Holford or Dick Ellis

Comptroller Strayhorn Statement
On Foster Care Abuse

Friday, June 23, 2006

(Austin)– “In April 2004 I said I would give our forgotten children in foster care something they need – a voice.

“I have been and I will continue to be their voice. This Governor’s Health and Human Services Commission continues to stonewall my investigation and this governor continues to hide the truth.

“In October 2004, I urged Gov. Perry to immediately create a Family and Protective Services Crisis Management Team by executive order to finally take serious steps to save children’s lives. Now it is June 2006.

“Gov. Perry’s failure to act is unconscionable.

“In November 2004, I launched an investigation into possible Medicaid prescription drug fraud and abuse in our state’s foster care system.

“I am here today to release disturbing information found during my investigation about the deaths, poisonings, rapes and pregnancies of children in our state’s foster care system.

“I found, from information provided by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, in Fiscal 2003, 30 foster children died in our state’s care; in Fiscal 2004, 38 foster children died; and in Fiscal 2005, 48 foster children died.

“Data shows that while the number of foster children in our state’s care increased 24 percent from 26,133 in Fiscal 2003 to 32,474 in Fiscal 2005, the number of deaths increased 60 percent.

“If you compare the number of deaths of children in our state’s population to the number of deaths in our state’s foster care system, a child is four times more likely to die in our state’s foster care system.

“Based on Fiscal 2004 data provided by the Health and Human Services Commission, about 100 children received treatment for poisoning from medications; 63 foster children received medical treatment for rape that occurred while in the foster care system; and 142 children gave birth while in the state foster care system.

“As alarming as these cases are, we can only imagine how much worse the Fiscal 2005 data is because Gov. Perry’s Health and Human Services Commission has refused to provide the data needed to complete my investigation.

“When I called on Gov. Perry in October 2004 to create a Crisis Management Team, I said the crisis was minute-by-minute and child-by-child.

“In Fiscal 2004, four-year old twin boys living in the same foster home received medical treatment in the hospital for rape.

“A five-year old boy in the same foster home received medical treatment in the hospital for rape two days later.

“A 15-year old girl who was not pregnant when she entered our state’s foster care system in May 2002 gave birth in February 2004.

“The state is supposed to be protecting our forgotten children, but in all too many cases these children are taken from one abusive situation and placed in another abusive situation. Many children are in more abusive situations now than they were before the state intervened. Children are being neglected and abused and are dying.

“As reported by the media, a 12-year-old boy died in December 2005, while in our state’s care at a facility that treats children with learning disabilities and emotional problems. The boy suffocated while being restrained from behind by an employee of the facility.

“Another boy in our state’s care at the same facility died May 30, after drowning in a creek during a May 6 bicycle outing.

“A three-year old was treated for poisoning from an atypical, mind-altering antipsychotic drug. These drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children under the age of 18 years old.

“Gov. Perry’s failure to create a Crisis Management Team is unconscionable. The crisis is minute-by-minute and child-by-child. I renew my call. He must act now to save children’s lives.

“I discovered the alarming number of deaths, poisonings, rapes and pregnancies while conducting my investigation into potential prescription drug fraud and abuse in the state’s foster care system.

“I launched my investigation in November 2004, after my report, Forgotten Children, uncovered the fact that large numbers of psychotropic drugs are being prescribed to children in the foster care system, even though, according to the FDA, many of these drugs are not approved for children and have serious side effects such as suicidal tendencies, diabetes, and cardiac arrhythmia.

“Since that time, repeated and continuing roadblocks and stonewalling have been encountered by me and my staff in attempting to secure basic and necessary data from the Health and Human Services Commission to complete my investigation.

“It has been 19 months and 25 letters, emails, meetings and phone calls since I first requested foster care and corresponding Medicaid data from HHSC.

“The Commission finally provided Fiscal 2004 data. But, 10 months into Fiscal 2006, we have yet to receive the Fiscal 2005 data, which we know has been available for months and months.

“In March 2006, I requested all of the same data for Fiscal 2005.

“The Governor’s commission has repeatedly thrown up roadblocks and stonewalled my investigation.

“We have had a signed Memorandum of Understanding, drafted by HHSC, at its offices since May 2005, agreeing in the Commission’s own language to the confidentiality of this information.

“Claiming confidentiality, HHSC to this day refuses to cooperate and provide the Fiscal 2005 data needed to complete my investigation, despite that the statute requires that they cooperate and the Court of Appeals ruled on June 16 that HHSC’s view about the confidentiality of its records is clearly wrong.

“What I have found from the information that was made available should be and is of grave concern, but the picture painted by Gov. Perry’s Health and Human Services Commission’s secret 2005 data must paint an even grimmer picture on all fronts.

“The people of Texas can handle the truth. What they will not tolerate is Gov. Perry’s callous indifference in hiding the truth and placing our forgotten children at high risk.

“On Thursday, June 29, my findings will be reported to the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Oversight Task Force so there will be a public record of this neglect and abuse.

“With every breath of air in Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s lungs, I will continue to be the voice for these forgotten, neglected, abused, and dead children.

“There should have been a Crisis Management Team put into action in October 2004. It must be put in action now to prevent any more neglect, abuse and deaths of our more than 32,000 children in our state’s foster care system.

“Gov. Perry is hiding the truth. And in hiding the truth he is jeopardizing our forgotten children’s lives. That makes me one heartbroken Grandma.”

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SOURCE: Susan Combs Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Window on State Government

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