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Foster Kids Abuse Case: “We Should Be Embarrassed”

By Jack Douglas Jr., CBS 11 News Investigative Producer
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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – This is the story of three courageous children … from the moment they were born to the hopes and heartaches that followed.

It will likely leave you with the strong feeling that the state of Texas owes these children … and perhaps thousands of other kids … a big apology.

They are called this state’s “Forgotten Children” … thousands of them in foster care… hidden from the public as they are taken from abusive homes …and moved elsewhere … over and over again.

CBS 11 News gained exclusive access to records that, in incredible detail, tell the journey of three of those children — a boy, his sister and another child who would eventually become their brother.

That journey eventually led them out of the state, to the small Ohio town of Troy, where Texas authorities approved their adoption to Kenneth Brandt, an insurance claims adjuster who is unmarried. Another Texas foster boy was also placed with Brandt, but his adoption was never completed and he has since been returned to the state of Texas.

Brandt promised to offer a safe, loving home to his new children from Texas. He asked for and received financial assistance from the state to help him raise the children, including, in the case of one child, $128 a month for “tuition to (a) private Christian school,” which he said “would better meet the needs of the child …”

But authorities now say Brandt was not a good father. We will not tell you the real names of the young children mentioned repeatedly in the child welfare reports obtained by CBS 11.

But all children deserve a name …respect… especially these kids … for what they’ve been through.

We’ll call them Billy, his sister Susan, and Timmy.

Billy was born at the Medical Center of Lewisville in April 2001. His sister, Susan, stepped into the world a year and two months later.

Trouble began almost immediately.  “The family reportedly resided in a car … under bridges … in motels …,” said one report.

It went on:  “On occasion, the parents gave the children alcohol, which (Susan) said she spit out because it tasted bad …”

“The children were starved and neglected and reportedly abused if they asked for food …”

The state responded, ruling their parents to be unfit.  When that happened, Billy confided in a counselor, who put in her report: “He is sad that his parents weren’t able to parent him.”

In a different part of the state, from a different set of parents, Timmy was born in  February 2000 in Athens, Texas.  Birth records show him to be healthy …ready to go.

But, like for Billy and Susan, things turned bad quickly for Timmy as well.  “Two black eyes … injury to his forehead … injury to his buttock …injuries on his thigh,” said one report. …”

And then a boyfriend of the boy’s mother picks up a weapon.  “Shot him in the head and buttocks with the BB gun because he was bad,” said the report.

Timmy was six when the state took custody of him.

As horrible as these reports are, a CBS 11 News investigation has found that they are not, unfortunately, unique to what thousands of kids go through in Texas.

Child advocates, judges … a senator … they all told us  of breakdowns in the very system meant to protect our children.

One of the problems is that child welfare caseworkers are historically overworked and underpaid.

A former caseworker told CBS 11 News she routinely tried to watch out for an average of 60 abused kids at the same time, keeping her up at nights worrying about how she was going to accomplish such an impossible task.

And where do state foster children, especially the ones emotionally and physically scarred, go?

In Texas, it’s a problem because residential facilities for foster children are not evenly located throughout the state. So abused children are not just taken from their abusers … they’re also forced to leave their friends, their teachers, a beloved pet …

The only support they knew.  “Be that 5-year-old child who’s been shipped off to Houston, and won’t ever see a face he recognizes again,” state juvenile court Judge Bill Mazur Jr. said.

Mazur did not deal with the kids sent to Ohio. But he has seen hundreds just like them in his Dallas courtroom, standing there, wide-eyed and wondering …where next?

“That child is left alone …in the truest sense of the word,” Mazur said.

Taken from their birth parents, and now presumably safe in the hands of the state of Texas, for Billy, his sister Susan and Timmy, the road to misery had not ended.

Timmy, beginning when he was six, was shuffled from one foster home to another an incredible 21 times.

He first went to Houston, where most of the state’s residential facilities for foster kids are located, and then to Carrollton, Glenn Heights, Fort Worth, Arlington …and on and on.

At the beginning of this shuffle, Timmy told a therapist he thought adoption was “when someone wants to take you home and keep you.”

But then he began to wonder.

One therapist, in a report, said of Timmy: “He expresses doubts about whether anyone loves or cares about him.”

Still, between the fits of depression and thoughts of rejection, as doctors pumped him with drugs to try and balance his mood, Timmy showed signs of just wanting to be a little boy.

“Loves Spiderman and writing,” said one report. “He enjoys learning and he is very creative … enjoys soccer and baseball … can be loving and affectionate …”

While Timmy was trying to find a home, so were Billy and his sister Susan. They moved eight times, to foster homes in Plano, Corinth, Saginaw, DeSoto, Arlington, Fort Worth and Crowley.

Billy was growing up, a report says, with “freckles … blond hair … and blue-green eyes … “ So was his sister, described in another report as having “shoulder-length blonde hair … and blue-green eyes …”

They clung to childhood hopes … in the face of broken dreams.  “He often puts his sister’s needs ahead of his own … he wants to find a forever home who will accept both him …(and his sister),” one caseworker wrote.

Between nightmares and emotional outbursts, Susan, according to one report, was a “sweet and curious child … she enjoys playing with Barbies … dolls … playing with make-up…dancing …”

She had a wish: ”Would like to be able to do magic.”

Magic, for all of these kids, was to find a place they could call home … forever … with someone who loved them … for real.

The state of Texas said they found that person, finally, in Kenneth Brandt, a 42-year-old man who seemed squeaky clean, a perfect fit to become a single dad in the small town of Troy, Ohio.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services relied on Action Inc., a private adoption group in nearby Dayton, to check Brandt’s background.

Records show that more than $33,000, compliments of Texas taxpayers, was paid to Action to develop the trust needed to place children in Brandt’s home.

But that trust evaporated in late February when Brandt and two other men, Jason Zwick and Patrick Reider, were implicated in a police sex sting operation.

They were soon charged with raping the Texas boys – Billy, Timmy and the third young boy in Brandt’s home, whose adoption had not been finalized. The men remain in jail in Ohio, awaiting trial, as residents continue to talk about the depravity.

“A father, for a lack of a better term, to loan his kids out to other males was horrifying to us,” Troy police Capt. Chris Anderson said.

Anderson laid part of the blame on Texas authorities who approved placing the four foster kids with Brandt in the first place. “Somebody, somewhere has to keep better track of these kids,” he said, adding, “It’s not about how fast you can clean out your inventory of adoptable kids … make sure they are going to the right places.”

The children sent to Ohio are not alone when it comes to Texas kids being left behind, seemingly forgotten, by a state system that is supposed to protect them, CBS 11’s investigation has found.

With 231 child deaths in Texas last year, including 30 in Dallas County and 8 in Tarrant County, this state leads the nation in fatalities caused by child abuse and neglect. They were the most unlucky among the 66,000 kids injured by abuse throughout Texas – with more than 13,000 of them living in North Texas, according to statistics compiled by our investigation.

Despite this state’s poor standing when it comes to caring for abused children, Texas lawmakers last year slashed millions of dollars from programs meant to prevent those attacks from happening in the first place, CBS 11 has learned.

While at the same time, legislators left intact a $9 billion reserve, known as the Rainy Day Fund, that critics say could have been tapped to help save those programs and keep thousands of children from losing services.

“We should be embarrassed, Texas should be embarrassed, when it comes to our efforts to prevent child abuse,” said Sen. Carlos Uresti, a member of the Texas Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, said that as he watched his colleagues cut services for needy kids, he couldn’t help but remember the pictures he saw in 2003 of the body of a 4-year-old boy, strapped to a bed post and starved by a family member.

“When you have 231 killed in Texas last year as a result of child abuse and neglect, that’s a problem that every Texan should not only be mad about, but should get involved, knowing what’s going on,” Uresti said.

We will tell you more about what’s going on with our “forgotten children” in Texas in future reports, only on CBS 11 News.

If you want to reach Jack Douglas Jr. with a news tip, you can email him at jdouglas@cbs.com

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