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A lack of communication between child welfare and the juvenile justice system harms foster children, court observers say

BASTROP, Texas — The lack of communication between the Texas Child Protection Agency and its juvenile justice system puts foster children at risk, Texas foster supervisors said in a court filing Wednesday after learning a janitor accused of exploiting children at a Bastrop animal shelter was previously accused of misconduct been released from a state juvenile justice facility.

The video shown above is from a previous report.

The watchdogs also expressed concern about whether the Texas Department of Family and Protection Services has fully investigated claims that the same caretaker had previously trafficked children and that she was dating another victim’s former trafficker.

The Refuge, a care facility for victims of sex trafficking in Bastrop, has come under fire in recent weeks after a former staffer, Iesha Greene, was accused of soliciting and selling nude photos of children in her care. The watchdogs, who were appointed by a federal judge to oversee Texas’ long-term care system amid an 11-year-old legal battle, are independently reviewing the situation. Greene has not yet been arrested. Attempts to contact Greene for comment were unsuccessful.

Court observers said they were particularly concerned that Greene was hired after he was fired for misconduct at a Texas Department of Juvenile Justice facility, The Texas Tribune previously reported. The refuge leaders were unaware of her past wrongdoing because they did not acknowledge her previous employment with TJJD.

The state requires state-licensed child care facilities to conduct criminal screening of all potential employees, but does not require them to screen all former employers before hiring new employees.

RELATED: Child protection monitors say there is ‘sufficient evidence’ children were abused at Bastrop care facility

In Wednesday’s court filing, Observers said that the fact that Greene was hired at The Refuge, despite having previously been fired and barred from future employment at TJJD, “creates gaps in the reporting of abuse, neglect and exploitation to the Texas Register.” has uncovered that pose a significant risk to fostering children.”

The observers pointed out that between 2019 and 2021, more than 100 cases of abuse or excessive use of force by employees in state and regional institutions were identified each year. But those results aren’t shared in a government database, meaning employees who have been fired for abuse or neglect can find employment in this system that serves children elsewhere — say, in a care facility.

“This is deeply concerning,” the observers wrote. “Because the agency does not report substantiated findings to the Texas registry, a state or county juvenile justice officer who has abused a child in their care will only appear on the Texas registry if he or she has also been arrested or prosecuted for the abuse .”

The observers also said they encountered obstacles in reviewing certain interviews related to the events at The Refuge. While observers were granted access to several video interviews from children previously housed at the shelter, they said they did not have access to others and many of their questions went unanswered.

In particular, the observers said they had more questions after reviewing a half-page synopsis of one of the videos detailing an interview conducted by a youth center with a girl in The Refuge. The child said that Greene’s boyfriend trafficked her at least two years prior to the interview and that Greene was also a human trafficker. Those allegations surfaced during a Senate committee hearing in March.

The girl said she saw Greene “raising money from young girls” in an area of ​​Austin known for criminal activity, the summary said. The girl said she was afraid that Greene and her boyfriend would get back at her for giving that information to investigators.

The observers said it was unclear how the Texas Department of Family and Protection Services responded to some of the allegations in interviews with residents of The Refuge, or if the agency fully reviewed all available evidence to come to that conclusion.

Observers said DFPS responded to their request for video of the interview that the agency could not provide it because the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office had the recording. DFPS officials said the sheriff’s office responded that the video “has no relation to what happened at The Refuge and is part of an ongoing criminal investigation,” Wednesday’s court filing said. DPFS said it also had not reviewed the footage and could not confirm whether the Texas Rangers, who are also investigating the situation at The Refuge, had done so.

RELATED: Texas foster care system judge: ‘They don’t know where the kids are’

Observers said DFPS investigators should have interviewed the child himself to assess their claims that Greene’s boyfriend was a former human trafficker. They also noted that the half-page report does not say when the child’s allegations first surfaced.

“The half-page document contains no information on anything that (the Refuge victim) may have submitted, about who she made her outcry against in The Refuge … and when she made the outcry,” the observers wrote. “Both are critical to determining whether The Refuge … should have reported the outcry, and if so, when.”

Observers say even the brief synopsis of the interview raises concerns.

“While law enforcement, not DFPS, was investigating the underlying allegations surrounding the (victim’s) trafficker and whether (Greene) was selling drugs in Austin, (the victim) himself touched on an issue that DFPS could reasonably have investigated: whether information was supported were (the victim’s) alleged that (Greene’s) friend (or someone connected to her friend’s) was the (victim’s) trafficker, and if so, how did The Refuge come to hire someone associated with a trafficker in Liaison to oversee victims of human trafficking.

Questioning the child, or at least viewing the recorded interview, “would be critical to this investigation,” the observers wrote.

“Ongoing investigations reveal significant safety concerns regarding the care of children at The Refuge prior to license suspension,” the observers wrote in their report. “There are worrying gaps in (DFPS’s) investigation into these safety concerns.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

https://abc13.com/lack-communication-texas-child-welfare-agency/11820920/ A lack of communication between child welfare and the juvenile justice system harms foster children, court observers say

Dais Johnston

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