Broken System

A lawsuit alleges that 12,000 kids trapped in foster care with little chance of getting out are being exposed to abuse and neglect, shuttled around the state and denied health services.

In order to sue on behalf of all kids in Permanent Managing Conservatorship, Children's Rights told the stories of nine kids located throughout the state.

The stories are similar to Shae's: kids uprooted from abusive homes, only to be shipped to homes and treatment centers of widely varying quality throughout the state. (Children's Rights would not make the plaintiff children available for interviews for this story, even though their names would not be used.)

"Defendants have long been aware of these and other deficiencies of the Texas foster care system, yet have failed to effectively address them — leaving many thousands of children to be harmed while in the state's care," the suit alleges. The group also asserts that "children in Texas's PMC will continue to be harmed, and their constitutional rights will continue to be violated, unless and until fundamental changes are made to this damaging system."
_____________________

The last time Shae tried to kill herself, it was because she was finally in a place where people loved her.

Lubbock's Nelson Home was, by her count, the 52nd facility she'd been shuffled to in her six years in Texas's foster care system. Shae (she asked that we not use her real name) wound up in the system because her alcoholic mom gave her black eyes and belt-buckle bruises.

At the Nelson Home, she expected more of the same: staff that were indifferent at best; another therapist to B.S.; and more waking up each day wondering if she was going to stay there or be shipped to another part of the state.

During her years in the system, state-contracted psychiatrists had plied her with more medications than she could remember. Prescribing psychotropic drugs to a preteen is much easier than finding her a home. Shae got to experience nearly every kind of accommodation the state has to offer a child who's ripped from his or her parents, separated from siblings and stuck someplace that, somehow, is supposed to help the child: emergency shelters, foster homes, treatment centers.

She'd just come from a lockdown facility in San Marcos, where, she says, the staff shot up residents with thorazine to keep them mute and malleable. Sometimes, its numbing qualities were a welcome respite. She didn't have to think about her surroundings. She didn't have to feel anything.

The Nelson Home was the first place she'd come to where she suspected that the staff might actually care about her. She panicked.

"I had gotten to the place where they wouldn't just give me a shot of thorazine," the 27-year-old says, 12 years later. "They made me feel my feelings."

They were feelings she couldn't process. Ultimately, she decided God didn't love her. In what she now admits was not a very well-thought-out suicide attempt, Shae swallowed a handful of disposable razor blades.

Shae left the system when she was 18, but she says she still has nightmares.

Looking back on it now, it only makes sense to her that, while learning to survive in the state's foster care system, she got to the point where someone's expressing genuine love and care would make her want to kill herself.

Seven years before Shae found hope at the Nelson Home, she was a heavily medicated nine-year-old. A state-contracted psychiatrist believed Shae was bipolar.

Her medication changed as she bounced around. Prescribing Zoloft, then Depakote, then lithium, then Ativan to a preteen is much easier than finding her a home.

Shae wanted to live with her ex-stepdad, the man she had always considered her father, but when he and her mother divorced, he had no legal ties to her. According to Shae, this is why DFPS never considered him for placement.

And because Shae had a tendency to run away, wherever CPS wound up sticking Shae, she was always a bit of a problem. The exact terminology was "oppositionally defiant."

This is how she wound up in the San Marcos Treatment Center, where her oppositional defiance and what she described as the staff's aggression fed off each other.

Shae says there were times when she was strapped to a bed and, for a reason she doesn't understand, covered with mosquito netting. The netting would make her gag, and she'd try her best to twist and turn so she wouldn't choke on her vomit.

There were fleeting moments of peace, like when investigators came for scheduled inspections.

On those days, she says, "you get back all the things that you're supposed to have as a normal human being. So you get your mattress back on a bed, you get to, like, have sheets on your bed. You don't get stuck with a needle that day if you're not supposed to have medication given to you." (A spokesman for San Marcos was unavailable for comment.)

Eventually, the restraints and thorazine wore her down to the point where she was no longer oppositionally defiant. She was numb.

San Marcos was one place Shae was never able to run away from. Security was just too tight. But if she had ever managed to sneak away, she knew where she would want to go. Straight to the man she calls her father to this day. In her eight years in state care, that was her one wish.

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33 comments
robbins.spring
robbins.spring

This is srobbins, now my children are in care because of a spiteful relative. I went to college and got my Bachelors in Social Work. I thought about divorcing my husband and his mother got angry and called CPS. PLEASE, this is not me. I don't hurt children. I devoted my life to protecting them. I need someone to help me!

srobbins
srobbins

I was a foster kid at daystar. It was really bad. That was in 1996. The staff made one girl drink out of the toilet. One night, they made all five of us girls stand up from 10pm-3am with out a break because someone left a door unlocked. Turned out to be the maintenance man...

J. Wright
J. Wright

Prior to, and since meeting Margaret in 2003, we have worked to lend an ear and give a voice to children trapped in this god-awful agencies' power and under their control. Children are taken from good parents, left with bad parents, and given to worse foster parents; don't get me started on residential treatment centers. In 2003, Margaret wrote, "Who has Attention Deficit" and sadly that child was not able to get out of the agency before permanent physical and psychological damage was done.

People ask how can you do this everyday and the only answer I have is: As long as there are children begging to go home, trapped in an agency that cannot and will not protect them, we will speak for these children and demand accountability.

How is that working? Well, Children's Rights has sued the state of Texas and Governor Perry is pressured to take care of all these children the agency feels more equipped to take care of. We've been working with Children's Rights since early 2000's and some of the children are coming home. We would love to present more children who are languishing in foster care while their parents are waiting for them to either age-out or run to home.

Why does this agency have so much power? They have repeatedly proven they are not up to the task of caring for children so why are caseworkers walking into court, telling the judge, "There are serious concerns" and obtaining a warrant to take the kids from their parents who have not done anything to warrant an investigation, much less the removal of the children?

-- Because the judges are not following the laws! We have laws but what good are laws that are not enforced?-- Because attorneys appointed to represent minor clients do not bother to visit their client, and are incapable of telling the judge what their minor clients want or need.-- Because although these agents have repeatedly proven, beyond all doubt, the agency cannot care for the children properly, the judges and attorneys look to the same agents to inform them of the child's needs. Lying out of both sides of their faces, judges continue to obey the CPS Command.

I vote we run random drug tests when judges return from lunch. No judge or CPS Admin. should be allowed to hear a case involving a child's future with alcohol levels that would blow our collective minds. I watched as one judge could not hold his eyes open. The man was not thinking, he could not keep both eyes open at the same time. One eye open, the other eye closed, and open that eye, and the other one closed!~WTH!~

The most recent development: http://www.youtube.com/hope4ki...Finally a judge with the guts to tell CPS "NO!" and non-suited their continual angst against the same family. How far will Texas let CPS go in killing this child? You can see for yourself what this baby looked like before CPS and three months later she looked like a cancer patient. We hope the state is out of her life for good, and now the state can pay for the harm they have caused to Rachie! Enough already.

Keep it up Houston Press!!

Dave Willoughby
Dave Willoughby

Time and again I have run across these 'Lost Children' over the last 25 years. My heart breaks each and every time. they enter our home by being friends with one of our bio-kids, and seem to stare at the world through dead eyes. Luckily, we have been blessed enough to informally 'adopt' three of these kids. (Even went so far as to attend foster training to try and get one placed with us instead of seeing her shipped out of state.) Every time we approached CPS/FFS, we were told that since we had no 'blood' ties, there was nothing we could do. We refused to believe that. We petitioned to have them spend holidays/vacations/weekends with us. (Otherwise they would often be locked in a room for days on end.) In one case, we made a deal with their foster parents that we would keep the child over the summer, and they could KEEP the check for NO work! They readily agreed... We are not rich, by any means. i am handicapped through an injury, and our income was always just shy of the poverty line, but none of that really mattered. All these children/teens wanted was a warm bed, a hot meal, and a hug now and then. We did what we could to show them how a family SHOULD work (messed up as ours is.) All three have gone on to be awesome citizens with families of their own. I can only hope that others are willing to look out for, and take a stake in these 'Lost Children".

belinda Cortes
belinda Cortes

I believe it, CPS gave me my grand child at the age of two weeks old and took him at 4 months old saying that my home was to old forced my son to forefit his paternal rights and gave my grandson to a rich couple and all this time my grandsons attorney is telling me I will fight to keep him with you she lied witha straight face.

Aware
Aware

This system is so corrupt on so many different levels. From the taking of the children from their homes to the keeping them in horrible deplorable conditions, that you wouldn't even place your animal in. I thought this system was for the "best interest of the children" or at least that is what I am told by Anne Heiligenstein and her senior staff and her OCA. I am personally on the other side of this system from the rest of the people who have posted comments. I have a blog dedicated to my ongoing trials with this system, if you would like to see a parents perspective please read my blog at https://www.texascps.blogspot....My heart just breaks reading this article and know that it is my children being put through this torture from the states hands. Shame on the state of Texas

Cobraspaz
Cobraspaz

Well this is Texas and Rick Perry. All you have to do is look at the education system in Texas and you can clearly see this is a state that care more about oil than children.Texas should break away from the United States like they keep threatning to do and become the independent third world country they deserve to be and the US can worry about keeping the goddamn Texans from entering the US illegally.

Steve Malisow
Steve Malisow

Craig,A very disturbing story but well done.

Ashley
Ashley

My husband and I spent countless hours trying to go through the state for a child. Everytime we sent paperwork in you needed to follow up about a 5-10 times, just to make sure they received your paperwork. Once our application was approved we were ready for the classes. It was just a few days before going to the classes and we got a call from a fraud investigator. We own a small business and all of our financial information had been stolen. You might have heard heard about this on the news as we weren't the only ones that had their credit info. stolen. This job was an inside job and had affected countless couples trying to adopt through CPS! The topper was our social worker had known about an ongoing investigation and never mentioned one word to us. The whole experience was brutal!! We were highly disappointed and ended up leaving CPS and going to a private agency. My regret is that the need is so high in the state for finding children homes and the system is so broken.

John
John

Sad to see that CPS is STILL broken and nothing much has changed! We started the adoption process in Houston with them back in 2002. Out of 26 enrolled in our initial parenting class only 6 completed it per the CPS requirements. And, we were the only family in that group to ever adopt through them; and only then when final frustration caused us to abandon and bypass the Houston area CPS district and try elsewhere in San Antonio. After completing every requirement for adoption in 2003 we were assigned our advocate case worker. That case worker had absolutely no concern for us or for helping any child find a permanent home with any family. We were left to do all of the search work ourselves and every time that we attempted to be considered for a possible match with a child that we had inquired about, we were met a negative response from our own CPS caseworker, and her supervisor; or ignored altogether. We began to notice that the same children were still “available” year after year but never adopted.Complaining went nowhere. One supervisor blamed the strictness of the all Republican judges in Harris County and refused to tangle with them. All information stated hundreds of children were in need of adoption in the Houston area but we could never understand why CPS would not work with us or some other families. It was after three years of dealing with their appalling treatment and lack of concern for us and the wellbeing of the children in their care, and just when we were considering abandoning the adoption idea that we accidentally made an inquiry through the San Antonio CPS district office. There we met a very helpful, proactive caseworker that was there for us and the children under her supervision. Three months later our two boys came to live with us and only months later we were back in San Antonio with a judge finalizing our adoption. We’ve never been back to the Houston CPS office.

MadMac
MadMac

As broken as DFPS is, it's base on two broken principles. The Texas Family Code affords children same rights as any other kind of livestock, while parents are afforded the far more substantial rights of ownership. Once deprived of owners, the children loose 90% of their rights, as advocated by their owners.

Secondly DFPS's guiding principle is protection on the cheap. State-run facilities are expensive, (wages, insurance, retirement, etc). It's far cheaper to pay some upstanding individual $500-$700 per kid. And hey, that's gotta work, so let's turn addoption over to local agencies and pay them a bonus for placement. See Zan's comments, (below) on adoption.

Why pay $10K-$40K (race, supply, demand sets price) to a group like Edna Gladney when there are abused/neglected children that need a home right here in Houston, right? What's the worst that could happen?

My Mrs and I went through Depelchin and Catholic charities. We narrowly avoided placement with desperately abused and/or violent children even after we told the reps we couldn't handle a child with those kinds of needs. When we refused to play the game-- foster some of CPS's headaches until the child we wanted became available and then dump the headaches-- we stopped hearing from Catholic Charities and Depelchin.

Well, that's not entirely true. We heard from them when there was a certification, (to pay for) or a class, (to pay for) or a inspection, (you guessed it, to pay for). After three years of emotional exhaustion, we closed our check book and turned away.

Two problems with two solutions: to change the system you must change the code and spend some money. I foresee the system remaining the same.

Anse
Anse

The infuriating aspect of this is that while most of us acknowledge that the state needs to do something to address the problem of child abuse, our "small government" obsessives gloss over the obvious: if you expect government agencies to work, you have to pay for them. I see the same problem with public education and so many other public institutions. We have people who often claim that the government doesn't do anything well, but putting those same people in charge gives them a great opportunity to prove that they were right all along. Incompetence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and breeds the kind of cynicism that makes real reform impossible.

Zan
Zan

This simply breaks my heart. I started tearing up as soon as I read the cover blurb, and my emotions rollercoasted from sadness to anger to sheer and absolute disgust with this state and its so-called "leaders". Our "esteemed" governor Rick Perry doesn't give a damn about these kids; just like another commenter said, their "Christian values" only come into play when it's time for voters to cast their ballots. People who try to adopt kids have to pay tens of thousands of dollars, go through rigorous background checks and home visits, etc., but they allow any sad sap seeking a government stipend become a foster parent. How much sense does it make for a child to be removed from their parental home because of abuse and/or neglect and be put right back into the same (or worse) situation by the system?! It's sad that this young lady could not go live with her stepfather, a man she obviously loved and who loved her...she'd likely have been a lot better off.

Jessica Valentine
Jessica Valentine

The problem with "DFPS" is that they don't properly investigate cases. They seperate children from their siblings and family. They also don't bother with "kinship placement" which would be in the best interest of the child/children. DFPS talks the talk, but they don't walk the walk - Their Handbooks and Brochures say all the right things, but they actually don't do most of what they print.

A child / children need to visit with their siblings and family on a regular basis. Ask any child in the custody of DFPS when was the last time they visited with their family members - Most would take a while to figure out how long it's been.

I talk from experience - I grew up in the Foster care system. I'm over 50 yrs. old now, but I never visited with my siblings. I was over 21 yrs. old, before I found out I had 8 siblings. I met 3 siblings for the 1st time when I was 16 - at the funeral of my brother. To this day, I have 4 siblings I have never met. If DFPS would get their priorities in order, and started doing what is in the "best interest of the child" those children wouldn't have to be bounced from home to home, like a ball and they wouldn't have to wonder how their family is doing.

HC
HC

My mother worked for the Texas HHS for nearly a decade. She has nothing but contempt for CPS, because she would frequently call them about obvious rape cases and they would not do anything. She called once on a 12 year old girl who came with her 28 year old "boyfriend" to apply for benefits and was 5 months pregnant. My mom called CPS when she was away from her desk, and the person on the other end was unsympathetic. The woman at CPS told her if the girl did not admit she was impregnated by her "boyfriend" of over a year, there was nothing they could do about it.

Like with many Texas HHS employees, CPS workers are just there for the paycheck. They have little respect for their fellow human beings, much less defenseless children. The ones who genuinely care for the children are treated like crap by their fellow employees, and get burned out from the uncaring bureaucracy that only cares about the bottom line.

Geezy
Geezy

I made it to this then absolutely fucking lost it; "...staff members at a residential treatment center called Daystar beat a 16-year-old boy, hogtied him and threw him in a closet to slowly asphyxiate to death."

It's sad, that they supposed care takers treat these kids they way they do. Drugging them up to the point that they become zombies; raping, killing and having them assault each other for shit's and giggles. Foster families raping, chaining, starving kids all while they stay trapped in a system that could care less about them while cutting checks left & right.

Before today, I'd not heard anything about the suit against Perry & The State by Childrens Rights, apparently this information was left out of his re-election bid. Its alarming, how so many of our elected officials and state reps run on "Christian & Family values", making a true mockery out of the very phrase the kids trapped in this dire system so direly seek.

I have 2 family friends that cannot have kids whom are going through the process of adoption right now. Hopefully, somewhere down the line I can do the same.

Guest
Guest

This makes me cry. I look at my beautiful son and realize that if he had been born under the wrong circumstances, he would suffer like these poor children. I only hope that my career advances quickly enough that once my biological children are grown, my wife and I can provide a home and family for other children.

Guest
Guest

"Why does this agency have so much power? They have repeatedly proven they are not up to the task of caring for children so why are caseworkers walking into court, telling the judge, "There are serious concerns" and obtaining a warrant to take the kids from their parents who have not done anything to warrant an investigation, much less the removal of the children?"

You mean to say, that no child that has ever been removed from their parents, was justified? That parents don't abuse or neglect their children and the children come into care because CPS doesn't have anything better to do then snatch kids up just for the fun of it? I can think of a million things I'd rather do then a removal, but unfortunately, they happen every day. That doesn't mean there aren't workers out there who don't abuse the system and their own power, but to make such a blanket statement is pretty ignorant.

J. Wright
J. Wright

Same thing happened to us in 1998, and again in 2004. If we have a problem with an agent and request someone with more authority, the result: "An inability to work with the agency." Meanwhile, children we wanted to help, with naso-gastro tubes and all, remain in foster care. The agency needs to start reuniting children with their families. Houston CPS is the worst of the bad.

MadMac
MadMac

John, God bless you. My Mrs and I gave up completely. We found that Catholic Charities, Depelchin, Spaulding, and a host of others are staffed with retired and/or failed CPS workers. Nothing has changed in this horrid system and I'm glad God brought your child to you.

guest
guest

"When we refused to play the game-- foster some of CPS's headaches until the child we wanted became available and then dump the headaches--"

Wow...that's quite a statement there. I understand if you can't handle a child who has been severely abused or neglected, that's certainly your prerogative, but that is also the attitude of a lot of families looking to adopt or foster...hence leaving the children who really need a family to love and support them, in the system until they age out. The fact that you put it that way, that's insulting to those children.

diando
diando

If they had allowed that then the state would not make any money from her..

Jessica Valentine
Jessica Valentine

In addition, The agency that is supposed to investigate complaints about DFPS is:"The Office of Consumer Affairs acts as a neutral party in reviewing complaints regarding case-specific activities of the program areas of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)." They're just as corrupt as DFPS. You can present overwhelming wrongdoing by DFPS to "The Office of Consumer Affairs" and they will say that they could not find anything wrong with the way DFPS handled a case. If they did, that would mean more work for both agencies, so the COVERUP continues.

diando
diando

You stated have little respect. CPS has absolutely NO respect for the children or familes.

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

HC :: I appreciate your point about CPS because I am a taxpayer and I should be concerned but I'm having a hard time with the example you used.

The U.S. Constitution unlike Communist China or other Command and Control governments requires evidence of a crime before we start the process taking away someones freedom.

A 12 year old girl and her 28 year old 'boyfriend' showing up for help is not evidence of any crime or ...probable cause that a crime has been committed.

CPS can not and should not be 'trolling' for crime.

I have often wondered how many people are employed at CPS who have to talk with hoards of Harris County residents who are trying - DEMANDING - to impose their moral values on society and demand that CPS take some action when action would be inappropriate.

Perhaps that 28 year old man volunteered to step forward as a father because his extended family and the church thought it would be best for everyone.

Might be, but quite frankly it is none of my business.

J. Wright
J. Wright

"Children are taken from good parents, left with bad parents, and given to worse foster parents; don't get me started on residential treatment centers."

Those are not my words. Those are your words and the minor, out of context quote, reflects an inability to fully comprehend the seriousness of children who become stuck in the foster care system.

Children are not safe in foster care. More effort should be made by anyone with the authority to remove a child from their home to prove a reasonable suspicion of abuse, with Affidavit of Facts that adhere to Facts.

If you are not the problem, you are aware of the problems.

There are repeated assessments in each listed report of the Texas Foster Care System and each study reflects children in foster care do not fare as well as children left in marginalized homes.

Are you helping children's need for safety, security, affection, education, consistent living conditions?

There are parents, waiting and children are waiting until they age out and reunite. Reviewing cases of children who remain in foster care to determine if the child can return home would reduce the load on the agency, to care for children this agency was never intended to care for. They have families.

Mistakes are made. Now, some mistakes will be corrected.

A judge in one report said, these are the children even God has forgotten.The children he referred to live in large residential group facilities and have remained in the PMC of the state of Texas for years on end, without permanency; i.e.: a home, a family.

Your statement is foolish.

guest
guest

Does anyone stop to think about the possibility that even though she loved her stepfather, maybe he wasn't appropriate? Maybe he had some criminal history that would place her in danger if left in his care, or maybe he had his own CPS history that found him to be abusive.

The way I see it, her mother was abusive to her, blackened her eyes and left belt buckle bruises...where was this man when she needed protecting from her mother? Maybe they were still married, maybe they weren't...but they got divorced for a reason, and I seriously doubt that he was completely oblivious to her treatment at home. If a family member cannot or will not be protective of a child, then no, they don't get to be considered. You have to look at it from all angles, not just a financial stand point or "hey the system blows". The system sucks and it's broken, but that doesn't mean everyone who works for the agency is a agrees with the way it's run...but they do the best they can with what they have to work with.

And as for foster parents, they go through the same background checks/training, etc as an adoptive home. How many times do you see on the news of someone murdering his/her family and everyone is "so shocked" because they were such "good people"? People who know the system, know how to play the game. It's people like that, that slip between the cracks and get away with the abuse and hiding their true selves until something tragic happens. That doesn't make it okay, but as we all know, it does happen.

Zan
Zan

Sad :(

MadMac
MadMac

Or... you might be imposing your freak-a-tude on the rest of us. Step away from the video games and read your political theory and public policy. The US Constitution reserves certain rights to the State and ultimately the municipality as long as they do not inact any statute that directly contradicts the Constitution.

In Texas, a child under the age of 16 is unable to give consent (12 is less than 16, BTW). Therefore requesting PUBLIC assistance, while pregnant with a 28 year old addressed as 'boyfriend' does beg the question of statutory rape. That's probable cause and not only invites the public servant-- we'd really rather not know what you do much less impose upon how you do it-- to get involved but DEMANDS that we call it in. That's State law as well.

As for "Perhaps he's [sic] extended family and the church thought it would be best for everyone," a judge would decide that, if she can stop laughing long enough.

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Hi, I just wanted to clarify something, as Shae's background is a bit confusing, and it's possible I didn't state it clearly in the story: The man Shae wanted to live with was her ex-stepfather; a man who did not abuse her. Shae's mom divorced him and married a new guy -- this is the one who abused her. Because the ex-stepfather was just that -- an ex -- he had no legal claim to Shae, and CPS did not consider him.

Thanks,Craig

Guest
Guest

Well, last I checked, CPS didn't have the authority to arrest anyone, much less charge them with statutory rape. Why would you waste time filing a child abuse complaint with a hotline, instead of calling the police and notifying them that you had a 12 year old child, pregnant, with a 28 year old man sitting in your office? Common sense would tell me, that would be the way to go. So many people don't want to "get involved" or want to "remain anonymous", because God-forbid someone deal with the consequences of a serious situation. They'd rather call the hotline and think to themselves, "I've done my part, I notified CPS. I can now sleep tonight" instead of notifying the police and having them react NOW instead of waiting for CPS to react LATER.

Same goes for children left alone in a vehicle. I'm not going to pick up the phone and call the abuse hotline and hope that CPS gets there before the parent comes back...I'm going to call 911 and let them do their job and respond. I can make a CPS report after the situation has been addressed by the authorities who have the power to bring criminal action against someone who is breaking the law.

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

MadMac: Oh I do understand that I have the minority opinion and I do understand and appreciate what you have to say.

And I do believe that you and your group which are clearly in the majority will prevail and soon there will be legions of government workers asking those hard questions with hard eyes for everyone who doesn't conform to the proper narrative.

But I will fight that command and control system until the day I die...sadly only with my vote, probably.

Thanks for your response.

PS: I forgot to express my appreciation to Mr. Masilow for this fine and most unusual article.

 
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