Foster Child Protection - Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Foster Child Protection

Here's the simple truth: the vast majority of the more than thirty-thousand children in Texas foster care don't know where to turn if they are victims of abuse or neglect. 

The proof? Every eight minutes a child is abused or neglected in Texas. However, the number of complaints filed with the state by foster care children over the last three years is a shockingly small three.

Previously, the Ombudsman Office within Texas Child Protective Services handled claims of child abuse and neglect, but many former foster youth highlighted the challenges that office faced.

Child advocacy groups like CASA pushed for the new position of foster care ombudsman to be created, which they say will help advocates serve children in the best way possible.

"If a child or adolescent feels like they are being abused at all, they'll have the ability to call and file a complaint with this neutral party," explained CASA Red River Executive Director Laura Grimsinger. "Their role will then be to investigate the complaint and offer a solution."

An incident where this foster care ombudsman would have come in handy unfolded right in front of Grimsinger's eyes. 

"One child who was in a residential treatment facility, he became agitated and upset. The staff members at that facility restrained him."

Alyssa Johnston, the child's care supervisor, continued the story. "He called me and said other kids were bullying him. His arm was actually broken twice while he was at this facility. As it turns out, the staff were really the ones who were abusing him, but he didn't feel safe telling me that because they weren't allowing him to call by himself."

Johnston was heartbroken and frustrated by the situation. "I'm supposed to speak up and advocate for him," she said, "but I wasn't able to do that because he wasn't able to tell me what was going on."

Now, according to Grimsinger, all children under the state's care will have access to the foster care ombudsman's number as a resource, one which both Johnston and Grimsinger agree is a vital one.

"If there's a dedicated place for them to make that outcry then it will be more likely for them to do so," Johnston said.

"It's imperative that we're transparent in all that we do on behalf of our kids. This new law will be particularly helpful," Grimsinger added.

Some have expressed concerns about children who will use the number in retaliation. Officials told me they aren't worried about that possibility, saying children in the foster care system need to have an outlet to express their concerns about their own safety.

As funds become available, more staff members will be added to help with the over thirty thousand kids.

Grimsinger says the position is not enough, but it's a beginning, and that every new step has to start somewhere.
 
Dave Caulfield, Newschannel 6

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