Children drugged into submission, tied up and put into dank basements, and sexually abused by adults and other children. These are not scenes from a gory television series, or tales we tell about other people in other countries to make ourselves feel smugly superior.
These are stories described on record in Stukenberg v. Abbott, a case brought by former foster care kids against the Governor and the cruelly, ironically-named Department of Family and Protective Services, decided in December in the Corpus Christi Division of the Southern District of the U.S. District Court.
Average Texans talking about politics disagree on policy issues like taxation and acceptable levels of state services, but our conversations tend to be philosophical. Periodically, someone in your Facebook feed or a blogger you read might bring up a personal anecdote of a disappointing or helpful interaction with state government, but the majority of us are fortunate to be able to have these conversations on a hypothetical level.
You might not have realized that April has been National Child Abuse Prevention month. A month for this, a week for that, a ribbon for this, a t-shirt for that. Too much to keep track of, right?
None of this is hypothetical for the children in the foster system, and it’s going to take much more than a month to fix things.
We owe it to the children in the foster care system, both the named plaintiffs in this case and the children past, present, and future whom they represent, to read this decision and understand the true implications of under-funding state services to children in desperate need of protection.
This is a call to action.
Please read at least what follows below, a few brief excerpts from the trial record. If you can do more, go to the decision and read it. You can skip the legal citations and go straight to the stories.
This disgusting and horrific abuse is the real-life result of slashing budgets to prioritize tax breaks for corporate property owners and the political aspirations of a few gubernatorial and presidential hopefuls.
It is the result of our state government’s despicable inability to take action despite numerous reviews that indicated the system was in complete free-fall.
The responsibility for what follows ultimately lies with all of us for refusing to demand immediate and meaningful change to the foster care system.
The court explains, on page 56, why it takes the unusual step of including lengthy descriptions of the abuse suffered by some of the former foster care children in the opinion:
Their experiences, however, paint a similar picture: children often enter foster care at the Basic service level, are assigned a carousel of overburdened caseworkers, suffer abuse and neglect that is rarely confirmed or treated, are shuttled between placements— often inappropriate for their needs—throughout the State, are migrated through schools at a rate that makes academic achievement impossible, are medicated with psychotropic drugs, and then age out of foster care at the Intense service level, damaged, institutionalized, and unable to succeed as adults. Numerous witnesses testified that the Named Plaintiffs’ experiences are typical for children in Texas’s PMC. The Named Plaintiffs’ narratives are the lens through which the Court viewed Plaintiffs’ systemic and class-wide evidence. The Court has written out these lengthy narratives in part to establish a record, but also because these children have for too long been forgotten.Their stories deserve to be told.
Yes, they do. Here are just a few excerpts:
Among the plaintiffs in the case were several former foster children who were moved so frequently that they never got the chance to establish any sense of permanence in their lives. One, Darryl Jackson, in foster care from ages 12 to 18, had between 35 and 40 placements in that six-year period. Another, Kristopher Sharp, had approximately 25 placements between the ages of 10 and 18.
D.I. tried to run away at the age of 7, shortly after the Dept. of Family and Protective Services first visited his home when he was 6 and his mother was abusing drugs. Here’s what followed:
- At the age of 8, he was moved into a relative’s home. Two years later, he was placed in the foster system because the relative couldn’t handle his behavior, symptoms of which suggested ADHD, mild depression, aggression, oppositional defiant disorder, and anxiety, among other conditions.
- At the age of 8, in his first month in a foster home, two older teenagers “sexually abused him on at least three occasions involving oral and anal sex.” One of his abusers, who had been abused by his own father, had already been moved from one foster placement after sexually abusing a different foster child.
- The Department of Family and Protective Services does not track child-on-child sexual abuse in a “centralized or aggregate” fashion, by the way.
- When D.I. was moved to another placement, it was explained in his record as happening “due to problems getting along with the older foster kids.”
- D.I. has been hospitalized and treated repeatedly for acting out sexually and mental health issues. He was 14 years old at the time of the trial.
S.A. was first sexually abused in the foster care system when she was five years old.
Her “sexual acting out” was classified as “extreme” when she was six.
She remained in the system until she aged out at 18, with over 45 placements in 33 different locations, with approximately 28 primary and secondary case workers, and never in a single-child placement.
Unless you count being heavily medicated and put in restraints in a psychiatric hospital a single-child placement.
When she was 15, during an evaluation, she wrote the following:
“Other kids make me frustrated.”
“I regret hitting little kids.”
“I can’t stay in a place a long time.”
“I need a family.”
Two weeks after S.A. aged out of the care system at the age of 18, she walked out into traffic and was hit by a vehicle, though not killed.
The stories go on for over 100 pages, and they are singularly horrific.
Children raped by other children, assaulted by adults entrusted with their care. Children contracting life-threatening diseases and suffering mind-altering abuse. Children prescribed entire medicine cabinets full of medications, strapped to beds, restrained and institutionalized. Children put in a “dark hole” as punishment. Adults failing at every turn to protect children from themselves, from each other, and form other adults.
It goes on and on in the opinion, but even worse, it is going on right now in facilities and foster homes and youth placement centers across Texas. Because a court case can only say what’s wrong. It can’t fix things.
It’s hard, but please, spend a bit of time and read the opinion.
Write a letter, send an email, or make a phone call to your state representative and senator. Find out who they are here. Tell them you are counting on them to demand real and immediate change in our foster care system to protect children.
If you are able, consider how you might be able to contribute in a more meaningful way to the safety and welfare of these children. Not all of us can adopt or foster a child, but many of us could contribute time or money helping someone else who can.
It’s National Child Abuse Prevention month, after all, and a ribbon really isn’t going to cut it this time.