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Report: The Refuge caretaker accused of exploiting children fired from previous job

The former employee previously worked at the Giddings State School but was fired in April 2020 for having inappropriate relationships with children.

AUSTIN, Texas — A caretaker accused of selling nude photos of teenage sex abuse survivors at a shelter in Bastrop County was fired from a state juvenile facility before working at The Refuge for DMST, according to a report by The Texas Tribune.

The Tribune reported that the person facing allegations previously worked at the Giddings State School in Lee County but was fired in April 2020 for having inappropriate relationships with children.

The person was hired at Gidding State School in September 2019. Six months later, the Juvenile Justice Department launched an investigation into the person's conduct in February 2020, per the Tribune. The person was fired in April 2020 and was barred from future employment there.

Sixteen months later, the person was hired by The Refuge, a facility for girls who have been sexually abused, and is now accused of selling nude photos of the teens who were in her care.

The caretaker has not been charged with a crime and was fired from the shelter. The state removed children from The Refuge after the allegations came to light. 

In a statement issued after the Tribune published the story, The Refuge's communications director, Steven Phenix, said a state-sponsored background check didn't show any criminal history. Phenix said if The Refuge had been aware of the person's firing, they would have never hired them. 

"We terminated her immediately when we learned she had exploited children. Because of this tragic situation, we have implemented additional measures in our hiring process that now exceed state requirements," the statement said in part.

The allegations of abuse at The Refuge surfaced in March, which claimed a handful of children faced abuse at the hands of caretakers. Among the allegations was that the former staff member had reportedly sold nude photos of two children under the facility's care and used the money to buy illegal drugs and alcohol for the children. 

The first report was filed with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in January 2022 and received several additional reports about the staff member through early March.

All of the children were not removed until March, weeks after the first report was received. Since then, the minors were transferred to alternative care. 

However, an investigation by officials revealed no evidence of sexual abuse or trafficking.

“There is no evidence that any of the residents at the Refuge shelter have ever been sexually abused or trafficked while at the shelter,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw previously wrote in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott.

He wrote the federal court monitor “identified material inaccuracies and contained information that had not been properly verified.”

However, he did confirm in the letter to Abbott that the photos taken were for “the alleged purpose of selling them for cash and/or drugs.”

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