The number of foster children being housed in unlicensed facilities in Texas has surged since 2020, to the point that hundreds are being exposed to “unreasonable risk of serious harm” each night as they are warehoused as a last resort amid a dwindling supply of state-approved beds.
According to a court-ordered report intended to provide a clearer picture of a complex problem, in October, 297 children bunked for at least one night in inadequate, catch-as-catch-can places such as government offices and motels.
That’s more than double the number from the same month a year ago and nearly eight times as many as in October 2019, according to a recent report by CBS 11 News in Dallas-Fort Worth. These youth generally spend nearly three weeks in such facilities before they land in a licensed bed.
Child welfare officials say they resort to these arrangements only when they can’t find a licensed facility that will accept the child — typically, teens with severe emotional problems and other high needs. But the court monitor who produced the report said Texas is simply not doing its job, whatever the reason may be, and that the state was exposing the youth to an “unreasonable risk of serious harm.”
The report found that some youth who stayed in these illegal placements were given the wrong medication or got into fights with their caretakers or peers, while some who had connected with sex trafficking ran away.
“It’s definitely a crisis,” said Kathleen LaValle, the president of Dallas Casa, whose volunteers serve as court advocates for foster children. “In some instances, it’s a very toxic environment for these children.”
A federal judge has given a committee of three experts until Dec. 15 to come up with potential solutions for ending the crisis, which is not unique to Texas.