Broken System: The People Behind PPP(Texas)

In December 2010, the Department of Family and Protective Service's Public-Private Partnership panel issued its recommendations on a foster care redesign.

The findings were the result of input from Child Protective Services, private foster care placement agencies, state-run child placement divisions, district court judges and directors of facilities that oversee foster children of varying needs. The PPP also reported that "3,000 stakeholders participated in foster care redesign presentations, meetings and public forums."

Specifically, the PPP was asked to focus on issues involving contracting, payments and geographic disbursement of services. Its recommendations were in keeping with certain quality indicators, including the primary one: "First and foremost, children are safe in their placements."

But based on DFPS violation records, some members of the PPP — those driving the redesign of the entire system — run facilities that seem to have problems hiring competent staff and/or finding decent foster parents, which can lead to safety issues.

Lynn Harms is president of Children's Home of Lubbock, which operates as both a residential center and a placement agency. In the last two years, according to DFPS records, replicated here verbatim, investigators reported the following:

• A child was made to sit at the table 8:45 AM to 3:00 PM daily during spring break as a form of punishment to do school work that was not sent from school.

• Bleach was poured on a child's hands while he held his soiled underwear as a form of punishment for refusing to wipe his buttocks. The bleach caused a rash on his hands and wrists.

• The children were made to eat a cup of vegetables before they could eat the remainder of the meal. One of the children refused to eat the cup of vegetables and did not eat for two and one half days.

• The child consistently stated to investigator and facility staff that he was whooped with a belt by the caregiver.

• The male residents were urinating in a bottle in their bedrooms because the foster parents did not want the alarms to be set off during the night.

• The foster parents threatened to take a foster child back to the foster child's previous placement if the child did not "straighten up." The foster parents ended up demanding the foster children be removed from their home immediately or law enforcement would be called.

• Administrative staff was aware that a foster child was slapped by the foster mother. This incident was not reported to Licensing.

• During a sampling inspection conducted on 12-29-10 it was determined that the foster parents handed their biological children medications to deliver to the foster children. These medications were then delivered by the biological children to the foster children, not under the supervision of the foster parents.

• During a sampling visit conducted on 12-29-10, it was determined that the foster mother had her cousin living in the home. No background check was conducted on the cousin.

• During my interview with one child in the child's room, the child's sibling reported that the foster father stood outside of the bedroom and listened to the interview. The child's sibling who observed this did not want to answer certain questions because the child knew that the foster dad was listening. This child whispered during the interview in order to not be heard by the foster parents.

• While I was speaking with this child's sibling, the foster mother told this child to keep a secret. The child reported that the secret was that the child was not sleeping in the bed with the foster parents.

Also sitting on the PPP was Scott Lundy, president and COO of Arrow Child and Family Ministries. In the last two years at Arrow, investigators reported the following (repeated here verbatim):

• A non-verbal autistic child has bruises that he nor the foster parent can offer an explantion for.

• Several residents (foster children) of a foster home witnessed a foster parent push and choke another resident (foster child) in the home.

• Firearms and ammunition are not being stored in separate locked storage units.

• Several school officials noted that the foster children came to school in clothes that were too large or small. One school official stated the prior week the foster child came to school in sweat pants that were not appropriate for the weather.

• Children in care were allowed to physically discipline other children in care.

• The caregiver used poor judgment when she left children with an unauthorized caregiver overnight without a car seat, a change of clothing, personal hygiene items and their medication.

• There is no record of a background check being completed on a relative that spends the night at the foster home frequently.

Robert Ellis, CEO of Pegasus, also took part in the state's complete redesign of foster care. In the last two years, investigators reported the following infractions at Pegasus (repeated here verbatim):

• Based on interviews conducted and documentation reviewed, there is enough evidence to indicate caregivers have not used the minimal amount of reasonable and necessary force in some circumstances.

• Background checks were not submitted within 24 months of the last submission dates for at least five employees.

• A child with a known history on inhalant use was allowed to work in a shed where gas containers were accessible. As a result, the child was able to huff gas fumes.

• A staff member initiated a restraint when a child would not back away from the staff member. At the time the restraint was performed, the child's behavior did not meet the definition of an emergency situation.

• A staff member inappropriately initiated an emergency behavior intervention when a child refused to comply with staff and walk outside of the dorm. The child was not a danger to themself or others. Staff also showed a lack of self control in the manner in which they initiated the emergency behavior intervention on the child.

• Based on interviews conducted and documentation reviewed, a direct care staff member did not demonstrate competency, prudent judgment, or self-control in the presence of children when her hand made contact with a resident's face. Another direct care staff member did not exhibit prudent judgment when he engaged in a power struggle with a resident.

• Staff conducted an unreasonable search of residents' bunks when a book was found under the bunk of another resident, where it should not have been.

Co-chairing the PPP was Michael Redden, executive director of New Horizons, which operates two residential treatment centers and a child placement agency. In the last two years, investigators reported the following infractions at New Horizons (repeated verbatim):

• The victim stated he couldn't breath because staff had his hand on his neck which cased him to be dizzy and light headed.

• A child sustained a fractured nose while wrestling with another child. Staff was present but did not stop the children from wrestling and allowed it to continue until one was injured as a result.

• Two children were able to sexually act out while the staff that was supervising the wing was doing laundry and taking a smoke break. One of the girls were sleeping outside of her room in the dayroom in order to be monitored closely by staff. Staff also left the bathroom door unlocked. The staff admitted she left the bathroom door unlocked and stated that the bathroom door is suppose to be kept locked at night. Staff also admitted to taking a smoke break and stated she was right outside of the door. One child stated the incident occurred while the staff was in the laundry room and outside smoking.

• The staff persons on duty allowed a child to walk out of the dining hall unsupervised and failed to follow-up and ensure the child returned home. As a result, the child was left unsupervised and wandered off campus where she was missing for several hours.

• Child had to be admitted to the ER to get her stomach pumped because a medication box with over the counter medications were left unlocked and a child was able to get into the box and take a bottle of ibuprophen.

• A staff person did not use good judgment in calling children demeaning names when he became upset. A staff person did not demonstrate self control when he got mad and threw a water bottle that hit a child.

• At the time of a restraint October 2, 2009, a resident was improperly handled by staff, resulting in a fractured wrist to the resident.

Curtis Mooney, president and CEO of Houston's DePelchin Children's Center, a placement agency, also sat on the PPP. In the past two years, investigators noted the following infractions at DePelchin (repeated here verbatim):

• A baby received bruises and marks to her upper chest area and the caregiver doesn't know how the child received them

• Two children disclosed that the Foster parent has used slapping, shaking, hitting, choking and turning an infant in care upside as a form of punishment. Infant sustained fractures to the bilateral skull, bilateral femur, tibial, and ribs.

• An infant was observed sleeping in a face-down sleeping position.

• Two foster children admitted the foster mother put a foster child in a garage with the lights off as a form of discipline.

• Foster parent failed to use prudent judgment when she bathed a child in care in water that contained bleach.

• Foster parent failed on two occasions to seek medical attention for a child when he fell from his top bunk bed and injured his left eye and when he tripped and fell at a church pinic and hit his head.

• Based on the information obtained during the investigation, the caregiver pinches the children in her care as discipline for their behaviors.

• Two of four foster children were allowed to spend the night at the residence of a relative. The relative did not have a background check.

• Based on the information gathered during the course of the investigation, there is sufficient evidence to support allegation of inappropriate discipline. Four children disclosed being hit by their foster parent, with a hand or object.

• Four out of four child records reviewed found no documentation of known allergies and chronic health conditions outside the case file or in a visible location.

• The operation failed to report allegations of sexual abuse and physical abuse of a foster child by another foster child. Compliance was met on 12/10/2009 by hand delivered documents.