AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: Since this story was published, the Texas Rangers cleared The Refuge of allegations of sex trafficking and abuse in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott.
Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rouke spoke Wednesday in regard to the recent reports that minors were being sexually abused and trafficked while in state care.
The candidate spoke outside of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) building in Austin with Texas Sen. Sarah Eckhardt and those who have first-hand experience with the Texas Child Protective Services, saying that Gov. Greg Abbott has "absolutely failed" children in the foster care system and under state care.
O'Rourke shared points to improve the way minors and families are helped through DFPS, including keeping children with relatives when possible, expanding mental health care and investing in Texas CPS.
ORourke also said he would seek federal aid to invest in helping CPS carry out its job and helping families receive the assistance needed in a system that he said has gone from bad to worse.
"We need to invest in CPS. More caseworkers, more oversight and more accountability. All of those things have been missing thus far. We have to have more resources," he said, adding that the State needs a governor who is focused on correcting the problem and holding those who are responsible for it accountable.
Throughout the press conference, he stressed the importance of keeping minors with relatives whenever possible instead of placing them under state care.
"And the last thing ... is making sure that when possible, again with the welfare and the care and the outcome of those children being paramount, that if we have to place them, we place them with other family members," he said. "I want to make sure that is a priority of the state going forward."
The press conference comes after recent accusations that a shelter serving sex trafficking survivors in Bastrop County, The Refuge, had employees sexually abuse and traffic the girls in their care. Court documents indicate that an employee of the shelter reported a former employee who sold nude photos of two survivors and used the money to buy illegal drugs and alcohol and gave them to those girls at the shelter.
In another incident at the facility, a spokesperson for The Refuge said staff helped two minors escape in February.
The court documents showed that eight reports regarding alleged human trafficking at the shelter were received by the state between Jan. 24 and March 4, but all of the children were not removed until March 9.
Documents indicated that some staff members at The Refuge were related by blood or marriage "and/or were cohabitating."
"I think it begs the question why are we privatizing the care of the most vulnerable in the state," O'Rouke said when asked about workers being married or related with potential conflicts of interest. "You are bound to have problems like this when you outsource the State of Texas' responsibility."
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