Disturbing video showing teen boy beating girl in foster care exposes challenges placing ‘last resort’ youth

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – People are calling for action and justice after shocking video surfaced showing what appears to be a teen girl being assaulted by a teen boy while in Children’s Protective Services custody.

The video, which was released by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, shows a woman they say is a CPS worker standing by as the boy pummels the girl.

“You have a CPS caseworker that’s not de-escalating the situation nor not even restraining the situation as well,” said Dr. Candice Matthews, Texas Statewide Steering Committee Chair for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Bishop Tavis Grant, the national field director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, issued a statement demanding an independent investigation by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“This video is a blaring example of a system running amuck. The trauma these children have already endured is now being exacerbated by lack of appropriate oversight and accountability,” Grant said.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services confirmed that the incident took place in April 2021 at Royalwood church during the supervision of Children Without Placement (CWOP). They said their employee was within protocol.

“Our CPS caseworkers are not caregivers who are formally trained in de-escalation techniques or restraints. Rather, pursuant to statute, caseworkers must provide temporary emergency care for youth when no suitable placement is available (CWOP),” an agency spokesperson told KPRC 2. “CWOP is not a placement and staff continuously work around the clock to locate a suitable placement for each child experiencing CWOP as soon as possible. All DFPS employees working CWOP are instructed to immediately call 911 in an emergency. Further, DFPS has hired on-site security for the protection of the children and staff where a need has been indicated by staff.”

DFPS released a statement that read, in part:

“Child safety is DFPS’ top concern for CWOP, as well as the security of DFPS staff. The number of CWOP who are staying in alternate locations is declining, down from 416 in July to 236 in November. Work continues non-stop to find solution for CWOP and the number one message for DFPS staff from Commissioner Masters is, ‘I hear you and CWOP is and has been my number one priority. We have to fix this for the children and youth in care, obviously, but also for our employees who are literally working 24 hours a day to staff CWOP.

“As of Friday Dec. 3, there were only 10 foster youth in CPS offices across the state, along with 92 others in alternative locations including with foster care providers, in foster homes, and in hotels. Since June 1, the agency has developed 46 new “sub-acute” beds – these are for foster children and young people coming out of psychiatric hospitals, who usually will end up in CWOP because of the lack of capacity for kids with their specific needs.

“On Sept. 30, CPS completed a detailed history and summary of every child that is currently in CWOP. Each region will hold a “drill down” meeting with the youth and everyone involved in his/her care, caseworkers, placement team members, and other stakeholders in the case, such as CASA and the child’s attorney ad litem. During these focused meetings, placement options will be discussed with the youth to determine goals, find family members, and identify connections with other adults. During the second Special Session, the Texas Legislature appropriated $90 million to provide rate increases and flexible funding to increase capacity; this is in addition to the $55 million appropriated by the Legislature in the regular session.

“One of Commissioner Masters’ priorities has been to ensure that all children in Texas are protected - but DFPS must use more caution and common sense when deciding if a child is removed into state custody due to extreme abuse or neglect. To support that effort, if investigators want to remove a child at least 12 or older, the director of that geographical region must approve. Since June, the agency has developed 138 new licensed, permanent capacity beds, all of them for children and young people in foster care who have high needs.”

WATCH: Video shows teen girl being beaten while in CPS custody

‘Last resort’ placements

An Executive Summary provided by DFPS illustrates the many challenges the agency faces when finding placement for CWOP.

The summary states, CWOP is a “last resort” utilized under department policy to varying degrees for years. However, since August 2020, DFPS has seen a marked increase in the number of youth in CWOP. As they have watched the numbers grow exponentially, they have come to realize that a number of factors have contributed to this increase, beginning with the unprecedented and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which coincided with both DFPS and HHSC increasing stricter regulation under the existing regulatory framework coupled with the implementation of increased oversight pursuant to the Court’s Heightened Monitoring orders. Further, as noted by the Monitors, Texas has a shortage of providers for youth with higher acuity needs. As the number of youth in CWOP has grown, so has their refusal to accept placement and/or to disrupt placement so they can be discharged with the hope of returning to CWOP, thereby causing the youth to cycle between placement and CWOP. As DFPS representatives have met with providers, judges, caseworkers and other stakeholders, it has become very clear that many of the youth are in DFPS custody because of behavioral and mental health issues.

The author of the summary goes on to explain that the child welfare system is here to protect children from abusive and neglectful families; but is not equipped to protect families from their children or take over parenting when families have reached their limit with behaviors or trying to navigate the mental health system.

The author summarized that the goal is to collaborate with HHSC to pursue refinements to the “front door” of the state’s foster care system to ensure that children who are experiencing mental and behavioral challenges can access those needed services under the continued care and supervision of their families, while furthering the goal of keeping families together.

Additional Developments

• State Office put efforts into providing appropriate technology, space, and education on proper etiquette for staff and children to participate in remote hearings. Judge Sakai emphasized the need to keep children involved and let their voices be heard.

• Child welfare participants should avoid assuming CWOP children are any more ill[1]behaved than other foster children. The Department can aid in this by ensuring that reports to the Court or other related organizations do not simply include behavior challenges/treatment barriers, but also include that child’s strengths. The Department should also approach these children in a way that understands the anger and frustration that motivate some of their most challenging behaviors.

• Efforts should be made to put children in more stable environments such as hotels or churches rather than offices.

• Courts should consider ordering placements with relatives if they are simply pending some administrative actions and that the Department approach these situations with a sense of urgency.

• DFPS should approach new cases, especially those concerning SB 44 or a Refusal to Accept Responsibility with a desire to think outside the box and avoid removal if a placement is not available.

• Caseworkers need administrative and community support to connect children with placements and mental health services.

In conclusion, DFPS states children and youth in the state’s foster care system deserve safe, stable placements that meet their needs and support their permanency goals. DFPS and its many and dedicated child welfare partners continue to work tirelessly toward that effort. Yet, a number of complex and enduring circumstances have resulted in youth experiencing periods without placement. DFPS is working

to overcome these challenges and to generate and sustain quality placements and placement capacity, but the Department cannot accomplish this important task alone.

About the Author:

Mother of two. Award-winning lover of digital storytelling, sparked by my fascination of being a fashionable gossip like my favorite "Willona Woods" character from "Good Times." On the serious side, president of the Houston Association of Black Journalists and dedicated community servant. Happy to share the news with you each and every day!