Op-ed: Zero Deaths in Foster Care is Possible

This commentary originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.

In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas should eliminate child deaths in the state’s foster care system. A heartbreaking new report by court-appointed monitors is a stark reminder that Texas is falling far short of that goal.


When the state removes children from their families and places them in foster care, their lives are supposed to get better. After the state chooses a foster home for the child, he should be safe from abuse or neglect. He should have the support and stability to heal from trauma, succeed in school and thrive. And he should be able to count on state regulators keeping a close eye on the foster home.

That’s not what happened to 3-year-old Amari. According to media coverage, after his family experienced homelessness, the state removed him from his mother and placed him in another home to keep him safe. In March, the state received text messages with photographs from his child care provider and mother warning that Amari might not be safe in this home. But, according to the new court monitors’ report, the state regulators tasked with overseeing safety in foster homes bungled their response.

On Easter, Amari died after he was found unconscious, bleeding from his ear. “He was the brightest spirit you ever met,” said his mother, Ariana.

Amari isn’t the only bright spirit Texas has failed. The court monitors’ report told of two other recent child deaths in foster care that may have been preventable and noted other fatalities about which less information is available. And before this report, the evidence provided during the foster care lawsuit, the state’s ombudsman report and other reports showed the state was placing children in foster homes where they were often abused, sexually assaulted, subjected to physical restraints, missed by the state’s oversight efforts and even killed. The worst abuses often took place at residential treatment centers or group homes.

Children of all races and ethnicities are suffering. But all too often, they look like Amari. He was black, just like a disproportionate number of children at every stage of the Child Protective Services system.

Yes, the foster care situation is grim, but there is hope.

Four years ago, Texas leaders learned about failures in a different part of the child protection system. The CPS investigators who look into reports of abuse and neglect in biological families (not those who oversee foster homes) were stretched so thin that investigations were delayed and children died. Abbott, legislators and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services leaders took steps to shore up those investigations, and we’ve seen real improvements.

The governor and Legislature should rise to the challenge again, this time focusing on the parts of the system that still need significant work. We believe the staff and new leadership at DFPS are up to the task if they get the support they need from the Legislature. We’ve seen how hard they’re working, even as coronavirus makes their jobs harder and puts more kids at risk.

Here are a few places to start: When it can be done safely, let’s keep more kids like Amari with their biological families. One way to do that is maximizing the federal funds the state draws under the new Family First Act to prevent abuse and support families. To protect kids who enter foster care, let’s improve oversight of foster care providers and steer more kids to foster families rather than group homes. For children who go to group homes, let’s improve safety standards. Each step of the way, let’s focus on undoing the overrepresentation of black children.

Taking these steps, we can get closer to eliminating child deaths in Texas foster care.