BASTROP COUNTY, Texas (NEXSTAR) — A court hearing is scheduled Wednesday morning over accusations of abuse at a Bastrop County shelter for child sex trafficking victims.
Earlier this month, a court document from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said it began receiving several reports of sexual and physical abuse occurring at The Refuge Ranch in late January.
The Texas Department of Public Safety did a preliminary investigation into The Refuge, saying it found evidence of child exploitation by a worker but no evidence of sexual abuse.
But court-appointed monitors who oversee the entire state’s foster care system said they found much more than that.
Andrea Brauer’s daughter was in the foster care system for several years.
“She had experienced neglect,” Brauer said.
Hearing the latest allegations of sexual abuse at The Refuge, it’s hard for Brauer not to wonder if that could’ve been Mia.
“The longer they’re in the system, the more likely it is that things like this happen,” Brauer said.
The state of Texas has struggled with its foster care system. A lawsuit has been going on for years, which is why a federal judge appointed two people to lead oversight of the state’s system.
Paul Yetter is the lead attorney on that case representing foster children. He’s seen the work the monitors and their team have done.
“They have made dozens of visits to different facilities all around the state,” Yetter said. “At all hours of the day and night, they have reviewed countless records for children and reports of abuse and neglect.”
The team costs Texas about $1.3 million to keep track of thousands of foster children across Texas.
“At times been as many as 55 professionals that have helped them keep track of what the state is doing and find new problems literally almost every month,” Yetter said.
The oversight isn’t something everyone agrees with.
“Nobody can really tell me what their purpose is other than to answer to the judge, and there’s really no incentive for the system to get better,” Sen. Charles Perry of District 28 in Lubbock said.
It’s a polarizing debate. But families, politicians and advocates agree the foster care system needs to be fixed.
“We are aware, and I think Mia is aware that she’s she’s pretty lucky,” Brauer said. “This is a really heavy situation.”
The monitors found DPS’ preliminary findings on The Refuge investigation was “at best, premature.”
The reason their opinion matters is because of their experience with these kinds of cases. They’re trained to look for things other investigators might overlook.
DPS released a statement in response to the monitors’ findings Tuesday, stating it was still an ongoing investigation.
“The purpose of Director McCraw’s March 16 letter was to provide a summary of the initial findings of the investigation into reports of sex trafficking at The Refuge. The following day Director McCraw testified before the Senate Select Committee on Child Protective Services and reiterated it was still an active investigation, but Texas Rangers had only found evidence of child sexual exploitation thus far. These preliminary findings remain the same as we have not identified any additional evidence of sexual abuse or human trafficking occurring at The Refuge. It is imperative that DFPS continue to document and report all allegations – whether they are substantiated or not – so that comprehensive criminal investigations can be conducted. The investigation by the Texas Rangers is still ongoing, and they are committed to pursuing each and every allegation to its end and interviewing all persons necessary before concluding the investigation,” DPS said.