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A Bastrop child sex trafficking rehab facility is set to reopen

In an exclusive interview with the KVUE Defenders, The Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking's executive director said the center now has its license to open.

AUSTIN, Texas — A Bastrop child sex trafficking rehabilitation center is set to reopen after having its operating license suspended.

In an exclusive interview with the KVUE Defenders, The Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking's (DMST) executive director said the center now has its license to operate again.

On March 11, 2022, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) suspended the center’s operating license after allegations that child sex trafficking was occurring at The Refuge in January 2022.

The accused employee was fired immediately, according to the center. 

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Family and Protective Services, investigated the allegations. 

“The Texas Ranger investigation did not identify any evidence that a Refuge employee engaged in criminal neglectful supervision, physical abuse, sexual abuse, promotion/possession of child pornography, or human trafficking of any child," the Texas Department of Public Safety's director wrote in a letter to G. Greg Abbott on Oct. 4.

“We're excited that we've come to this point. We're excited about the new leadership in the Department of Family Protective Services. And our goal is to have a collaborative and strong working relationship with our regulators. We have always believed that the State of Texas could be a leader in this fight and in the care of survivors, and we want to be a part of that," said Brooke Crowder, founder and executive director of The Refuge for DMST. "And we want to be a part of that with those in our state that are also fighting for children, that need us and need our services. So we're very hopeful for the future and looking forward to continuing a great relationship with our regulators."

No charges were filed against the former employee, and a Bastrop County Grand Jury declined to indict her.

“This 11 months of not being operational, we had the time to be very proactively evaluating every aspect of our organization, everything from our campus operations to our care model and the implementation of that care model, and in particular our screening and interviewing and hiring practices. So through those evaluations on every aspect, we believe that we are emerging a much stronger organization,” Crowder said.

Following the incident, The Refuge and HHSC entered into a settlement agreement 11 months later in January 2023. In this settlement, HHSC agreed to lift the suspension to operate at the center and The Refuge agreed to be on a one-year probation.

"Youth cannot be admitted into the operation until an HR Director has been hired, the Praesidium and Nortex contracts have been reinstated and recommendations implemented, the Policy and Procedure Manual is finalized, and all current, rehired and new employees have been trained," the probation conditions show.

Other conditions show requirements for employment verification, reference checks, training, staffing and documenting incidents. 

“We're putting in new tools to help us evaluate employees in addition to two other third-party background check entities that go above and beyond what is required by the state and the federal government,” Crowder said.

In December 2022, the Texas Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services published a report stating:

“Over the course of three hearings, witnesses identified systemic problems that continue to plague the child welfare system, despite increased budgetary support and other reform efforts over the last four biennia, including operational inefficiencies, chronic lack of quality foster placements, and high workforce turnover.”

Last summer, The Refuge laid off most of its staff. The center is in the process of hiring and will need to raise funds to reopen.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can receive confidential help by calling the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 800-656-4673 or visiting its online hotline.

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