Child protection monitors say there is “sufficient evidence” that children were abused at the Bastrop Refuge Ranch

BASTROP, Texas — Court-appointed watchdogs of Texas’ ailing foster care system found “ample evidence” former sex trafficking victims were abused in a foster care facility, contradicting findings by Texas Rangers earlier this month.

After examining thousands of documents and records, observers said in a court filing on Monday there was evidence supporting allegations of child sexual abuse, exploitation, lax supervision and physical abuse at the Bastrop Refuge Ranch. The Observers also called a letter from Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw to Governor Greg Abbott, which said there was no evidence that children were sexually abused or sold at the shelter, “premature at best.”

Two of the residents of the sanctuary told the sanctuary managers in late January that one of their caretakers had offered them drugs to take nude pictures of themselves. The alleged perpetrator was released after the initial report, according to Refuge leaders, and is under criminal investigation, according to McCraw’s March 16 letter to Abbott.

Abbott ordered the Texas Rangers to investigate the situation shortly after it emerged in a federal court hearing, reports The Texas Tribune. The temporary closure of the shelter has been ordered.

READ MORE: Sex trafficking victims found additional abuse at the Austin shelter, according to a worker

Staffers have also been accused of helping children escape from the facility. Four employees have been fired and are also being investigated, McCraw said in his letter. One was also arrested for lying to the FBI, he wrote. Details of both incidents emerged in previous reports and hearings.

“There were no allegations or evidence that these residents were sexually abused or assaulted by anyone,” McCraw wrote in initial findings released less than a week after the Texas Rangers investigation began.

At least one child victim was not interviewed by a Texas Ranger “until well after the DPS letter was released and the child was upset by the Rangers’ conclusions,” according to the Observer’s report.

DPS and the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday. The Texas Department of Family and Protection Services declined to comment.

The monitors’ report was filed as part of a years-long legal battle over foster care in Texas. Paul Yetter, the attorney representing foster children in the federal lawsuit, had previously disputed the Texas Rangers’ claim that there was no evidence of sexual abuse or assault when it first appeared, calling it “surprising and extremely disturbing” since the investigation continue.

A court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. when heads of state, attorneys and US District Court Judge Janis Jack will discuss the situation at The Refuge. Jack ordered state officials to make available the taped interviews of the children housed at the shelter. In 2015, Jack had ruled that the state violated foster children’s constitutional right to be free from undue risk of harm, saying children “often age more damaged than they came in.”

The observers wrote in Monday’s report that there had been repeated “mismanagement” and serious risks to children’s safety.

“The surveillance team’s review uncovered evidence that numerous children at The Refuge were denied safe accommodation,” the observers wrote. “There is ample evidence of breaches of high and medium-high standards of child safety and of abuse, neglect or exploitation of children. The evidence of serious child safety risks at The Refuge includes, but is not limited to, a strong possibility of human trafficking, which relies on staff tricking children into selling nude photos for drugs.”

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

TIED TOGETHER: Child protection monitors say there is “sufficient evidence” that children were abused at the Bastrop Refuge Ranch

Dais Johnston

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