Officials Knew Foster Children Were in Shelter Cited Over 200 Times for Unsafe Conditions: Report

State officials in Texas were reportedly aware that foster children were being illegally housed in an emergency shelter cited over 200 times for hazardous conditions. However, based on court records, they failed to report the violation for months, according to The Texas Tribune in a story published Thursday.

The Whataburger Center, a shelter for foster children in San Antonio, was cited 239 times between 2016 and 2020 for violations over state minimum standards.

In describing the situation at the center, court documents revealed "substantiated" findings of abuse, self-harm, sexual allegations, and medical neglect, among others.

In September, the shelter was put on probation by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The probation blocked children from being housed there after the department reported "a continued pattern of deficiencies in the area of supervision, medication, and reports/record keeping."

Based on court records, the Whataburger Center told state officials that children would be placed in homes, and the shelter would give up its license in January. Instead, the state-appointed provider that operates it, an organization known as Family Tapestry, continued to illegally place children in the shelter and in their own office, which is connected to the Whataburger Center.

The Texas Tribune reported that the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and HHSC were aware of the illegal housing of children for months and did not report the situation to the court.

In March, nearly five months after HHSC first became aware of the situation at Family Tapestry and the Whataburger Center, a whistleblower reported to the court monitors. Five days after the federal court was alerted, the DFPS told Family Tapestry to remove all children from the center by March 25, which it did, according to DFPS.

Two weeks after the remaining children were placed at other facilities, Family Tapestry terminated its foster care contract with the state.

At a court hearing in April, Elizabeth Farley, a policy advisor for Texas Governor Greg Abbott, said that the governor's office was first informed about allegations of children illegally sleeping in offices regarding the center in October, court records said.

Paul Yetter, the attorney representing foster children in a lawsuit against the state, said, according to the Texas Tribune: "The state made repeated visits to Family Tapestry into the Whataburger Center and found children sleeping overnight at a facility that was not supposed to have these children — so, the state knew about this on an ongoing basis. There's no reason why they hadn't shared the information with the monitors."

Texas' foster care system has been a long-running problem. In 2015, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack found that Texas violated foster children's constitutional rights and stated that "children often age out of care more damaged than when they entered." The judge called on the state to make changes, such as around-the-clock supervision by adults.

Scott Lundy, CEO of Arrow Child and Family Ministries, said that "the capacity crisis that we have right now is the worst that I've ever seen," KXAN reported.

Newsweek reached out to HHSC for comment.

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