By Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune
“After abuse accusations at The Refuge, Texas will create new reporting and screening requirements for foster care workers” 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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A pair of bills that would prevent caretakers at foster care facilities from perpetuating abuse against children are making their way to the governor. The legislation, which has now passed in both chambers, was in response to allegations of misconduct from a caretaker at a Bastrop foster care facility.
When Iesha Greene was accused of soliciting and selling nude photos of two girls in her care at The Refuge, The Texas Tribune reported that Greene had been previously fired from a state juvenile facility for inappropriate relationships with children.
The Bastrop facility did a background check before hiring Greene but did not learn about Greene’s history of misconduct through the screening process, according to testimony from Brooke Crowder, founder of The Refuge, at an interim committee meeting in March 2022.
Senate Bill 1849 would create a single search engine that links the “do not hire” registries of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Education Agency.
Leaders at foster care providers, state facilities and schools could access the search engine to conduct background checks to see if an applicant has been reported for misconduct at a school, long-term care facility, child care facility or juvenile facility.
“This is a bill that was born out of our interim committee … after what we saw happen in Bastrop at The Refuge,” Sen. Lois Kolkhorst said on the Senate floor Friday. “This is really going to help us know who we’re hiring in the future, making sure we keep the most vulnerable among us safe from predators.”
James Yocum, the deputy director of human resources at DFPS, told lawmakers at a Senate committee meeting that staff at The Refuge concealed evidence that allowed the abuse to persist. While mandatory reporting requirements exist for professionals licensed by the state, such as teachers and day care employees, the rules do not extend to staff at foster care and juvenile facilities, like The Refuge, that are not licensed by the state.
Senate Bill 182 would amend the state’s human resources code to require employees and contractors of DFPS and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to report criminal offenses committed by fellow employees and contractors to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“After the incidents at The Refuge in Bastrop, it is important that employees of DFPS and TJJD are required to report criminal offenses committed by fellow employees and contractors against those receiving services from DFPS and TJJD,” Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, the bill’s author, said in a statement to the Tribune. “Mandatory reporting requirements for all employees at these agencies will better protect those vulnerable kids living at these facilities.”
A spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether Gov. Greg Abbott supports these bills. But as long as he doesn’t veto them, SB 1849 and SB 182 will become state law.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/05/22/dfps-the-refuge-bills-child-welfare/.
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