ABOVE: Bishop James Dixon with members of newly formed Love & Justice For Kids Task Force to address the issue of children and families who are suffering as part of the foster care system in Texas
There is a very important issue happening here in the Greater Houston area and across the state of Texas that is impacting and jeopardizing the lives of countless children – that issue involves the foster care system.
Too many children and youth, especially those who are African American, have become victims of the many failed policies, the unjust sentencing, the lack of oversight, the under resourced facilities, the public unawareness and the lack of proper nurturing and love, that has become a culture of unfortunate normality surrounding the foster care system in Texas.
Many children that have found themselves captured by the foster care system usually begin their traumatic journey in juvenile court, and then they move on to foster care, then many get sucked into human trafficking and sex trafficking, and sadly, some of them become casualties of unnecessary and untimely deaths. It is a truly troubling issue that many community advocates have sought to raise awareness about and want to address.
Because of this critical issue, local minister and community advocate Bishop James Dixon invited many community advocates, elected officials, community leaders and members of the media to a major press briefing and luncheon at the Community of Faith Church to hear from some of the victims of the foster care system.
Several of the victims who spoke, suffered from being heavily medicated and trafficked while in the child care system, while others were parents who unjustly lost their children to the foster care system at the hand of judges who had the power to do whatever they wanted to their children without any repercussions and without any accountability for their actions.
It was reported by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services that in 2017, more than 1,700 foster children fled state care, and at least 35 of them reported being trafficked for sex, according to the agency’s Annual Foster Youth Runaway Report. It was also reported that 223 of those children were listed as missing and had been gone for an average of 13 weeks.
Harris County was listed as having the highest number of runaway children from the foster care system in 2017, with 388 children. The next highest county (Bexar County) had 165 runaway children from the foster care system, which speaks to how serious the issue is in Harris County.
Some disturbing facts involving our children and the system, especially in Harris County, include the following:
- The Foster Care to Prison Pipeline is massive and disproportionately impacts youth of color, especially African Americans, poor children and those with mental illnesses.
- More than 437,000 children in the United States were in foster care at the end of 2016, according to the Los Angeles-based National Foster Youth Institute.
- Last year, one in seven children reported missing was likely a victim of sex trafficking and of those, 88 percent were in the care of Child Welfare when they went missing, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
- 96% of our minority children were sent to Juvenile Jail from Harris County Juvenile Courts, in 2017.
- There are 79,000 child sex slaves in Texas which means that over 77,000 come from foster care and other social services (estimates Real Beauty Real Women Foundation).
- In Harris County, most poor children are represented by appointed lawyers rather than by public defenders. The child care system feeds on impoverished conditions.
Not only has the foster care system become problematic for children that are placed in the system, it is also a problem for those who become too old for the foster care system. Foster care children aging out of the system are one of the most vulnerable populations for homelessness.
Every year, hundreds of youth in the Greater Houston area, along with more than a thousand youth across the state of Texas, age-out of foster care.
For a lot of these youth, it is nearly impossible to afford rent without family support, so the risk of homelessness among this population is very high.
Several experts and community advocates in attendance weighed in on the foster care system topic, such as Jay Jenkins of the Texas Justice Coalition, Katya Dow of the Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project, Parents of Child Trafficking Victims, Terrance Koontz of the Texas Organizing Project, Jacquelyn Aloutto of Real Beauty Real Women Foundation, HISD Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, representatives from the office of Constable Alan Rosen and Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and several faith and community leaders.
At the conclusion of the press conference and luncheon, Bishop Dixon thanked all the stakeholders who were in attendance and the survivors who spoke, and emphasized the importance of forming a local Task Force in Houston/Harris County to focus on a collaborative approach to executing a collaborative solutions strategy to address the issue.
It was determined that the group in attendance was on board with moving forward, and thus the Love & Justice For Kids Task Force was formed to seek to address the issues relative to public policy; advocating for sound legislation that is implemented and followed; an awareness campaign involving community organizations and the local media; connectivity with the faith-based community; and making sure the victims of the foster care system have access to the necessary platforms to share their impactful stories.
“I am looking forward to future opportunities to convene more leaders, stakeholders and members of this community who will join us in this effort to fight for the safety and wellness of our children,” said Bishop Dixon. “According to Nelson Mandela, our society’s soul will be judged by this. May God Bless the Love & Justice For Kids Task Force as we work together to save our children.”
Public awareness is crucial and we must preserve the welfare of our children of all ages, which is why the Forward Times is devoted to using our platform to bring constant awareness to this issue and work with the community to address the challenges we are facing with the foster care system across the Greater Houston and across Harris County.