By Casey Michel
By Dianna Wray
By Dianna Wray
By Sean Pendergast
By Casey Michel
By Cory Garcia
By Jeff Balke
By Craig Malisow
"Here we are an agency supposed to be protecting children, you know, what's in their best interest," Christian says. "But is it in my best interest to work a 14- or 15-hour shift and ignore my own children?"
During Welborn's tenure at CPS, he had trouble sleeping. He often felt nauseated and suffered from ulcers. Gray whiskers sprouted from his charcoal beard. He tried to stay despite the weekend order, but then he received e-mails from his bosses that said the standards of work needed to rise. Welborn felt insulted.
"The system was in so much crisis this summer, it could not make the right decisions," he says.
This summer, CPS investigated Stephanie and Giselle Garibay. The women lived with their seven young children at Bissonnet Gardens, an apartment complex deep in southwest Houston. The children would often wander around the complex alone, wearing little more than diapers, according to Ofelia Cruz, the manager at Bissonnet Gardens. On September 12, CPS investigated a complaint that there was no food in the apartment for the children. There wasn't.
"They don't take care of the kids. It was like, where is the mother at," Cruz says.
About a week later, Giselle was arrested for child neglect. Three of her children had strayed from the apartment, and Giselle left to look for them. When officers arrived at the apartment looking for Giselle's brother, who was wanted on an auto theft charge, they saw an infant lying face down on the floor. When police told Giselle they would call CPS, she said an investigator had already been to the apartment and done nothing.
Three days later, Rosalio Banuelos-Manrique, a 19-year-old male friend of Stephanie, showed up at the apartment. He tucked a loaded pistol behind a bed. Stephanie's three-year-old son wandered into the bedroom, found the pistol and accidentally shot himself in the face.
Maria and Rafael were discovering that their CPS case was full of holes. Maria took the court-ordered hair follicle drug test and waited, mulling over the allegations against her. Positive for cocaine and marijuana on May 7 and July 17. She tried to remember if the hospital had even taken urine samples during those visits.
She dug up her hospital records for those dates and found the nurse's notes:
07/17 14:30: pt changed into gown and given instruction to obtain clean catch urine... pt states she can not give a urine sample at this time...
On the last page of the hospital records from July 17, under the section labeled "Procedures," it shows that no urinalysis was done. Maria thought the hospital probably mixed up the test results from May. Maria and her baby tested negative on the birth date, July 21, and Maria thought she had a pretty good case.
At the next court hearing, Maria and Rafael learned that Maria passed her hair follicle test. Maria's attorney, Ralph Alvarez, argued that the original allegations should be dropped. But the judge reset the hearing for ten days later, to see if investigators could determine anything new.
They did. As it turns out, Maria had a child before meeting Rafael. Four years earlier, she was homeless in Houston, bouncing between friends' sofas and her sister's spare bed. Maria became pregnant for the first time. Several months after that son was born, Maria traveled to Texarkana to work on a construction crew. She desperately needed the money, and it would only be temporary. She left her newborn with a friend.
When Maria arrived back in Houston, the friend told her that someone from Child Protective Services had taken Maria's baby. The CPS report from that investigation maintains that Maria's son was taken in with a lice infestation. The baby's head was bleeding from lice bites and scratching. When Maria met Rafael nearly two years later in Seguin, after both had fled the city and Hurricane Rita, she didn't know the fate of her first son.
Things had gotten better for Maria. Rafael was a godsend, and she loved him immensely. Rafael loved her back. After some time in Seguin, they returned to Houston and Rafael found a steady job at HydroChem Industrial Services in La Porte. Eventually, the couple moved to a modest home in a trailer court not far from his work. Maria liked staying home cooking and cleaning and caring for the couple's son while her boyfriend spent his days at work.
Now Maria had lost her kids again. The judge granted temporary custody of the couple's two sons to Rafael's mother and stepfather. Maria and Rafael were ordered to meet with a caseworker and their investigator to develop a parenting plan — counseling, classes, drug tests — which would be the key to getting back their children.
At the meeting, the investigator didn't show. Wale Babalola had left the agency to pursue a nursing career. Rafael and Maria were granted visitation twice a month, for one hour, at a CPS location in Houston.
Texas caseworkers handle anywhere between 40 and 80 cases at a time. Investigators' caseloads have dropped since 2005, but remain at 30 to 40 per month.
The Child Welfare League of America suggests that caseworkers and investigators should carry between 12 and 17 cases a month. The national average is about 24.
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