On an April morning just two months shy of his fourth birthday, A.B., a toddler, was found unresponsive on the floor of his foster home, bleeding from his ear, with other injuries suggesting he may have been physically abused.
Starting in March, no fewer than four reports had been made to the state’s welfare agency alleging that the child’s caregivers were inattentive and abusive, and the child’s birth mother had sent a photograph of an injury to state workers. A.B., who was referred to in court documents by only his initials, had missed day care several times, and witnesses reported scratches, a hip injury, a black eye and facial bruising. One such report, initially marked as a top priority by a worker with the state’s child welfare agency, was downgraded to a lower priority days later by a different unit in the agency.
After two abuse investigations, Texas’ child welfare workers did not remove the child from the home. They removed A.B.’s 1-year-old sibling only after A.B. had died.
It has been nine years since children’s advocates sued Texas over its dismal treatment of kids in state care, and nearly five years since a federal judge ruled that Texas violated foster children’s constitutional rights, writing that they “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.”
A.B.’s story is one of countless atrocities and violations detailed over hundreds of pages in a major new report issued this week by independent federal monitors appointed to scrutinize Texas’ child welfare system as part of the long-running litigation.
In their 363-page report, the monitors — Kevin Ryan, a former New Jersey Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, and Deborah Fowler, executive director of the nonprofit Texas Appleseed — report that years after U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ordered sweeping changes, “the Texas child welfare system continues to expose children in permanent managing conservatorship to an unreasonable risk of serious harm.” They described “a disjointed and dangerous child protection system, inefficiently and unsafely divided between two state agencies [the Department of Family and Protective Services and the Health and Human Services Commission], where harm to children is at times overlooked, ignored or forgotten.”