Texas Senate votes to close employment loophole after Refuge foster care scandal
By Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune
“Texas Senate votes to close employment loophole after Refuge foster care scandal” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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The Texas Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill meant to keep people from caring for kids in the state’s foster care or juvenile justice systems if they’ve previously committed what amounts to criminal conduct within one of those agencies. The legislation comes nearly a year after The Texas Tribune reported that a Bastrop foster care facility hired a caretaker whom the Texas Juvenile Justice Department previously fired for having inappropriate relationships with children in her care.
As an employee of The Refuge, a state-licensed foster care facility for victims of sex trafficking, the woman was accused of selling and soliciting nude photos of two girls in her care at the Bastrop facility. Leaders at The Refuge said last year they were not aware of those TJJD records at the time the woman was hired. A grand jury later declined to indict the woman.
Mandatory reporting requirements already exist for professionals licensed by the state, such as teachers, day care employees and juvenile probation officers. But the Tribune identified a loophole for staff at the Department of Family and Protective Services and TJJD while reporting on The Refuge last year.
Senate Bill 182, which unanimously passed on Monday, would amend the state’s human resources code to require employees and contractors of DFPS and TJJD to report criminal offenses committed by fellow employees and contractors to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“As we learned during the testimony regarding The Refuge … the absence of mandatory reporting requirements for all employees can prove to be dangerous for some of Texas’ most vulnerable children,” said Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston.
Under the legislation, knowingly failing to report an offense would be a class A misdemeanor. Intending to hinder an investigation or to conceal the criminal conduct could result in state jail felony charges.
Lawmakers have filed several bills this session in response to testimony heard last year about The Refuge. House Bill 2572 would establish a central registry of the names of individuals found by the Health and Human Services Commission or TJJD to have abused or neglected a child, and House Bill 4236 would create an interagency child protection database.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/04/03/texas-dfps-tjjd-reporting-criminal-behavior/.
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