On January 10, the Texas legislature began it’s 2023 legislative session. Major issues according to the state to be decided this year include the “state budget, school issues, border security and property issues…,” according to the Texas Tribune.
And the state has an unprecedented amount of money to spend on those issues this year - $188.2 billion. It includes a $33 billion surplus. The surplus itself is larger than the combined budgets of Connecticut, Delaware and Vermont. So Texas is flush with cash, much more money than it’s ever had.
What will it do about the horrors facing children in Texas foster care system and its juvenile prisons? Texas has approximately 28,000 children in foster care. Since July 2019, 47 children have died in that system, according to the Texas Tribune. Now there are plenty of funds to change it.
In 2011, the federal government sued Texas for violating children’s constitutional rights by subjecting them to what the Texas Tribune called an “unreasonable risk of harm.” Since 2011, a surprising amount of that abuse is still unaddressed. In September 2021, “court appointed watchdogs”1 gave a federal judge new and ongoing evidence of the abuse children were enduring.
Some spent the night on mats on office floors or in hotels. Some were given the wrong medicine or the wrong dose. Some were exposed to sexual abuse. Others tried to hurt themselves by drinking cleaning fluids, cutting themselves with sharp objects and hanging themselves “to the point of losing consciousness.”
A new federal court report shows that Texas has made some progress in changing its foster care system. But it also says Texas is still failing to protect children in foster care from “trafficking” and a “lack of medication monitoring.”
Children with no foster parents can end up in unlicensed housing because Texas doesn’t have enough of those facilities. Last October, two teenage girls were allegedly sexual assaulted in an unregistered facility in Marble Falls. It’s been closed.
In August 2022, another report2 exposed the shocking conditions in Texas’ five understaffed juvenile prisons. Most are said to be “near collapse.” As a result, these teen prisoners on occasion have had to use water bottles as “makeshift toilets” and others have been “locked alone in cramped cells with a thin mattress on a concrete block” for almost 24 hours. Many have no window. According to the report, “nearly half” of the kids locked up in these 5 prisons have been put on suicide watch.
So I’ll be watching the governor and the legislature, as will other concerned Texans. We will be horrified by the inhumanity of a state flush with cash, if it continues to make victims out of helpless children.
Jodie Sinclair is an award-winning writer who holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and resides in Bandera, Texas.
1. https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/ news/politics/2021/09/16/408609/texas-foster-carechildren- exposed-to-sexual-abuse-given-wrong-medication- and-neglected-in-unlicensed-placementsnew- report-says/ 2. https://www.texastribune.org/2022/08/02/texas- juvenile-prisons-crisis/