NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

June 1, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This will be a two-part post. I’ll follow up this one with a second on Sunday.

First, we learn that Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, of which Child Protective Services is a part, saw 1,707 kids in foster care run away last year (San Antonio Express News, 5/29/18). Of those, 223 haven’t been found and have been missing on average for 13 weeks. In other words, most of those kids will never be found by CPS or the police. They may return of their own accord, but they won’t be found.

Unsurprisingly, the kids run away often because they don’t like being in foster care and/or don’t like CPS. The 2017 Annual Foster Youth Runaway Report by the DFPS notes the fact.

Some 1,707 children and youth ran away during fiscal year 2017. The top seven reasons children and youth gave for running are listed below:

Dislike of rules of placement (23%)

Anger at CPS or the system (20%)

Desire to be on one's own (20%)

Desire to see family/relatives (16%)

Frustration / anger with caregivers (14%)

Desire to be with boyfriend or girlfriend (10%)

Desire new placement (10%)

Now, the linked-to article is long on indignation and short on reasoned analysis. Of course runaways from foster care are an important issue, but equally important is balance. Last year there were, on average, about 30,000 kids in foster care in Texas. Seventeen-hundred is about 5.6% of that total and of course the great majority of those runaways returned after a short time. (The kid who takes a day to see his girlfriend is technically a runaway, but he shouldn’t cause a crisis.)

Equally important is the fact that kids in foster care are abused. They may have been abused by their parents, but they were certainly traumatized by the process of being taken from their families and placed with strangers. Then of course their treatment by foster parents is notoriously worse than their treatment by their parents. They’re more likely to be physically abused, sexually abused and placed on powerful psychotropic medications in foster care than anywhere else. The only surprise here is that more kids don’t run away.

But the San Antonio Express News article is bent on finding a scandal and stirring up controversy where, in all probability, there is none.

Texas had 245 foster children listed as runaways as of Tuesday, and they are at high risk of falling prey to sex traffickers, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

No, actually they’re not. But that’s a larger topic, so I’m leaving it till my next post.

Meanwhile, the Express News takes the grab-bag approach to reporting the information on Texas CPS. It tosses in many facts, most of them unrelated to the recently-released report on runaways, just to make sure readers remain outraged at, well, something.

So we learn that there’s a class-action suit against Texas CPS. Of course it has little or nothing to do with runaway kids, but the Express News avoids mentioning the fact.

We also learn that a few kids have to spend nights in “state offices, hotels or shelters” while the agency finds them foster homes. That’s undeniably an ongoing problem with a chronically underfunded agency, but again it has nothing to do with runaways.

Few have been more critical of Texas CPS than I have. That’s almost exclusively stemmed from the fact that the pinch-penny state legislature has never, until the past year, provided sufficient funding to run the agency properly. Many of the problems, like a shortage of foster parents, are holdovers from that long policy of pretending that CPS can do its job with too little money, too few caseworkers, investigators, foster parents, etc.

The lawsuit against CPS in which the agency was excoriated by federal Judge Janis Jack and found to have violated the civil rights of its young charges was what it took to spur change. Texas legislators don’t like federal officials telling them what to do, but at least they finally responded to Jack’s decree. To date, essentially any criticism of Texas CPS is necessarily a criticism of the legislature. Better funding is now being provided, but all problems can’t be solved overnight.

Perhaps aware that CPS is trying to turn itself around and concerned about the possible absence of a tried-and-true scandal to write about, the Express News writer opted for the grab-bag approach.

And the most exciting part of that is the claim that runaways are “at high risk” to be trafficked for sex. It’s a dubious claim at best.

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