Early Sunday, two teenage foster girls were hit by a car after escaping the Houston Child Protective Services office they were supposed to temporarily call home. One of the girls died at the scene.
This is the first time a foster child has died while being housed in a CPS office — a short-term solution for staffers who can't find any other providers willing to take in children. This practice has become a point of contention (and the go-to example of agency's failures) in recent months as the state legislature considers several bills to reform the struggling foster system.
"Unfortunately, runaways from foster care are very frequent. These children and young adults are not in detention and the caseworkers, they're not guards," said CPS spokesperson Patrick Crimmins in an interview with the Dallas Morning News
The two girls had left the CPS office 10 hours before they were hit by a minivan while walking along the side of a road. The van driver told police that the 15-year-old foster girl had walked slightly into the street before he hit and killed her. The second foster girl, 17, suffered an arm injury.
While Crimmins noted the girls have a record of running away from CPS offices, he would not comment on what may have prompted their escape, why they were living in a CPS office, or any details about their history within the foster care system. He said the agency will try to learn from the incident to change the "practice or protocol" of keeping track of kids staying in state offices instead of foster homes. There was no mention of how housing kids in state offices might be the wrong solution to start with.
But Scott McCown, a former state district judge with a background in child welfare, told reporters that CPS isn't to blame in letting this happen. State lawmakers put them in this situation in the first place, he told the News.
"The Legislature ... has done nothing about the foster care capacity crisis," said McCown.
This may be the first time a child has died while in direct CPS custody, but not a new occurrence for kids fighting their way through the CPS system. In 2016 alone, CPS reported that more than 200 Texas foster children had died because of some type of maltreatment. At the same time, more than 1,000 foster children were reported living in abusive homes — and weren't getting the attention needed from overworked CPS staffers. Most teenagers who make it out of the foster care system alive enter adulthood with serious, untreated mental health issues tied to their rocky childhood.
A day after the girl's Sunday morning death, state lawmakers heard testimony on a bill that would outsource some of CPS' duties to private agencies, a move some fear will strip the state from what control they currently have over the agency. The fact that kids are now being killed under the watch of state employees may not help their argument — but pushing kids further out of the public sphere may only make these incidents harder to track.