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‘I do feel like I am failing children’: Commissioner over Texas foster care admits system isn’t working

Report reveals child-on-child sexual abuse among kids and teens forced to sleep in office buildings, hotel rooms.
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Texas State Capitol building in Austin

DALLAS — Two new reports reveal troubling details about kids and teens in Texas’s foster care system.

During the first half of 2021, 501 children have spent at least one night in their caseworkers’ offices or in hotel rooms because the state could not find a licensed agency or center to take them.

The average stay in these unlicensed placements in August 2021 was more than 18 days, an increase of more than 1,000% over December 2019’s average of 1.6 days, according to a report published by the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Another report from court-appointed monitors who serve as watchdogs over the system found these children without placement are being watched by supervisors who lack proper training, which has led to instances of child-on-child abuse.

The monitors’ report said there is evidence one youth fell victim to sex trafficking while in state custody.

At a hearing in federal court, Paul Yetter, a Houston-based attorney representing children in foster care, questioned DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters.

“You are failing these children without safe placements by not putting them in a safe place to live. Isn’t the state doing that, Commissioner Masters?” he asked.

“I do feel like I am failing children,” she responded.

Yetter added, “And the state is failing children. That is the state’s obligation.”

Masters replied, “The state charges me with doing that.”

The virtual hearing was in U.S. District Judge Janis Jack’s courtroom.

She’s heard cases involving the foster care system for more than a decade, and she told all the parties involved she was tired of hearing too much talk and seeing too little action.

RELATED: U.S. District judge questions Texas foster care leaders for ongoing issues related to children's safety

Masters, Yetter, and attorneys for the state agreed to meet with the court-appointed monitors and others and try to hash out a real plan to solve some of the problems that have nagged the state’s foster care system for years.

Yetter later released a statement saying he’s hopeful Gov. Greg Abbott’s office will support the effort.

Yetter’s statement read:

"We're cautiously optimistic. The safety of these children is our top priority, and right now everyone agrees that they are in dangerous, harmful placements. The prospect of working together on a real solution, especially with the blessing of the Governor, is the best path forward. I look forward to getting started as soon as possible."

Many of the Texas youth who lack safe placement suffer from mental an emotional trauma.

The state claims finding agencies or centers willing to take them in is difficult as COVID has cut down on the number of beds available and as state monitors have increased their oversight of the facilities.

According to DFPS, since January 2020 Texas has lost more than 1,600 beds for foster children.

The majority of those came from operations that housed and treated children with high needs, the DFPS report said.

The report said as of Sept. 7, 2021, there were almost 29,000 children in Texas foster care.

As of Sept. 9, 2021, 169 of them had no placement.

According to the report, 57 children were sleeping in hotel rooms, 53 were in community-based lodging, 23 were in a leased space, and 36 were sleeping inside a DFPS office.