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U.S. district judge may hold Texas in contempt over child abuse and neglect cases

U.S. District Judge Janis Jack called for a contempt of court hearing to determine if the state failed to comply with previous orders.

AUSTIN, Texas — We’re learning more about the State and federal investigations into a Bastrop child sex trafficking rehab facility.

The Refuge for DMST (domestic minor sex trafficking) is not a lockdown facility, but it is still held responsible if someone runs away from its campus. Five girls escaped in February 2022, totaling 16 runaway events. 

Although not on campus, the facility voluntarily reported one child ran away while she was on a temporary visit with her grandmother. Records show the girl died in a car wreck before federal agents could bring her back to the Refuge for rehab.

Federal District Judge Janis Jack told court monitors to investigate The Refuge and how the State handles allegations.

“The significant uptick in runaway incidents at The Refuge between 2020 and 2021 warrants a systemic investigation of the problem; the experiences of the children who were able to run from the facility and fall back into trafficking show the dangers associated with failing to address what may be a systemic threat to child safety,” a court monitor report filed June 2 shows.

“We’re deeply disappointed that yet another misleading report from the court-appointed monitors has misrepresented the level of care we offer to the child victims of sex trafficking. It’s a well-documented, sad fact of life that running away is a default coping mechanism for children who have experienced trauma, so The Refuge not only applies prevailing best practices to predict and prevent it, we also report every single time one of our female teen clients leaves our property without permission. Assigning the same weight to all reports, regardless of duration or outcome, is irresponsible, misleading and further delays the return to care for the children who need it most,” Brooke Crowder, founder and CEO of The Refuge for DMST, said in a statement.

DFPS records show 1,767 children and youth were missing across Texas at some point during the 2021 fiscal year. That’s down from the 2,094 children reported missing in 2020.

The State removed all girls from The Refuge on March 9. It’s still closed pending the outcome of the State’s investigation.

This came after the facility was accused of sex trafficking children. The Texas Rangers found those allegations against the child rehab facility were false. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) continues to investigate if any neglect or abuse took place.

A decade-long class action lawsuit has DFPS under federal court supervision. The agency will be released from supervision once they meet the federally required standards.

In a hearing Monday, the judge told DFPS she will call for a contempt hearing regarding how DFPS operates and how it handles investigations.

“I think the public would like to know in a jury trial about things going on,” Jack said.

DFPS will need to testify on how it operates, including its citations, background checks, child placements and timeliness of investigations.


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