A state lawmaker’s records reveal that the state agency empowered to take your children also neglects or hurts them.

Child Protective Services has broken up families, subverted parental rights, kidnapped kids, and exposed them to harm, and Texas’ public servants have failed to hold this agency accountable.

Texans expect the government they pay for to protect families and children. Unfortunately, there is a pattern of public servants doing the exact opposite.

School districts, for example, have started to appear to be a hunting ground for predators. A story from Grand Prairie ISD is just one example of many recent arrests made because a school district employee allegedly had an “improper relationship” with a student.

The closer one examines public education, the more problems surface.

Mothers in Canyon ISD allege the school district shredded records of a male student’s assault of a female student. “It seemed the district’s only goal was to protect themselves and their brand,” said Stephanie Henninger, the mother of the assaulted girl. Her attempts to hold Canyon ISD accountable by filing complaints with the Texas Education Agency brought predictably absurd results when the school district employee under investigation was assigned as the investigator. “None of the laws in place have any effect on reality,” Henninger said. “Districts know they are optional. Until this changes, our children will continue to suffer.”

Mary Bone, who serves on Round Rock ISD’s board of trustees, said many good laws already exist—they just aren’t being followed. “There is no law and order in our school districts,” Bone said. “Tax dollars are spent however they want. It’s the Wild West.”

It seems that more and more Texas schools have become a dangerous Wild West. That was the subject of season four of Exposed, a Texas Scorecard podcast, which examined how Texas children are assaulted with drag shows and pornography in public schools.

But the threats to Texas children and families don’t come only from public education.

Since Child Protective Services (CPS) kidnapped 4-year-old Drake Pardo from his parents in 2019, its parent organization, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), has been under a microscope. The Texas Supreme Court ordered the child returned to his parents after it was revealed CPS had wrongfully taken the child.

DFPS has a pattern of destruction. It is still plagued with a decade-old lawsuit, where a judge found that children in the state agency’s care were not being properly cared for and were exposed to harm.

After the Pardo fiasco, the DFPS commissioner resigned and Gov. Greg Abbott then nominated Jamie Delynne Masters, who had prior experience working in the State of Kansas’ version of the DFPS. She was fired on November 28, 2022, nearly a week after Texas Scorecard published an investigative report showing DFPS bureaucrats were rebelling against public servants’ efforts (including Abbott) to protect children from gender mutilation and hormone manipulation.

That firing raised questions. During Texas Scorecard’s investigation, we obtained a 24-page document from the Office of the Governor (OOG). It contained a declassified October 19, 2022, complaint from Masters to the OOG that alleged DFPS was a hostile work environment and that the OOG was undermining her.

Also included was the OOG’s follow-up internal investigation. It claimed Masters’ allegations couldn’t be substantiated, though it did confirm state lawmakers were unhappy with her performance. This was covered in Part 1 of this investigative series.

Decoding

One of the few certainties that came from reviewing both records was that Masters did not resign, but was fired. Did Abbott fire her because she failed at her job or because state lawmakers wouldn’t approve of keeping her around? Or was there another reason?

Answering these questions is much like the Sherlock Holmes mystery “The Dancing Men.” In that adventure, Holmes must decipher an encryption to try and protect a couple. To do that, he must gather more coded “dancing men” messages to determine the coded language. Masters’ complaint and the OOG investigative report are the “Dancing Men” in this story.

It would be speculative to conclude based solely on this information. While both records contain interesting information, they verify little on their own. More coded messages are needed to understand what’s happening. To that end, Texas Scorecard followed the trail left by the 24-page document from the OOG and sent open records requests to the only two members of the Texas Legislature whose names appeared within: State Rep. James Frank (R–Wichita Falls) and State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock).

Frank is chairman of the Texas House Human Services Committee. Perry is currently vice chair of the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Both oversee DFPS as well as CPS.

Roadblocks

Transparency in state and local government continues to be a fight.

Texas Scorecard sent an open records request to State Rep. Frank, seeking communications between his office and Masters and communications in their possession about Masters, starting from January 2022. His office did provide some records, but not everything. In January 2023, Frank appealed to Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to withhold certain records. A detailed appeal was sent to Paxton nine days later by Jason Briggs, the deputy general counsel for the Texas House of Representatives. Briggs argued the withheld records are exempt under multiple sections of state law.

The records they withheld are identified only as Exhibits B through G. Exhibit D is particularly interesting.

“Exhibit D is an email to Representative Frank’s House email account from a personal email account on March 28, 2022,” Briggs wrote. “The contents of the email consist of opinions and recommendations regarding the mission, vision, and operational planning of the Department [of Family and Protective Services], which in turn directly affect the policy-making process.” He explained that this email contains information and agency insight that only those within the agency would know or have access to. The information “addresses issues that extend beyond the internal administration.”

Because this information is withheld, this mysterious informant remains anonymous. Recall that in Masters’ complaint, she alleged her chief of staff, Julie Frank, and former Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein were communicating with members of the Legislature and Abbott’s staff behind her back. Madi Fletcher of the OOG claimed Masters’ “failure” to keep the governor’s office updated forced them to “rely on Julie.” Fletcher recalled she had “several conversations” with Masters about the need for constant communication. Julie Frank is now a member of Abbott’s staff in the OOG. The Office of State Rep. James Frank (R–Wichita Falls) stated he is not related to Julie Frank.

The argument for withholding Exhibits B and C encompassed “communications between a governmental body and a third party, including another agency or other party with a shared privity of interest.” On January 9, Frank sent Gov. Abbott a third-party notice, notifying him of our open records request and that, as a third party, he has the opportunity to “object to the release of these records by submitting written arguments to the attorney general that one or more exceptions apply.”

Despite hiding these records, Frank did provide others with shocking information.

Encouraging Child Prostitution

The most shocking item found in Frank’s records was a recording Masters appeared to have made and sent to him of a Fox 26 Houston August 2022 report of a Child Protective Services staffer telling an underage girl in CPS care to engage in prostitution. At the time, CPS had the 14-year-old girl stay at a hotel in Harris County. After a conversation with her mother, the girl eventually recorded the staffer.

An unofficial transcript of the 14-year-old’s recording was not included in that article, but it was included in the records Texas Scorecard obtained from Frank. The transcript shows a conversation between the 14-year-old and a CPS employee named “Vanessa.”

In this conversation, Vanessa asks the minor why she’s being disrespectful. The girl denies being disrespectful, says there’s no food, and asks to be fed. “How long you gunna stay here though? I don’t want to spend my money for you to lay up with some *****; let him feed you. My mama told me, you gunna be a hoe[,] be a real hoe. Don’t let no ***** down there. If he ain’t feeding you,” Vanessa says.

“You got your nails done and your toes done with money in your pocket, yea that’s how you hoe. I’ve been there, these men used to be broke ***** with me but I’m just old now, so my hoeing days are done. I got a child. I can tell you how to hoe, and that aint it.”

The entire transcript is available below. To protect the identity of the child, Texas Scorecard redacted her name, as well as explicit language.

Fox 26 reported that DFPS Commissioner Masters personally came to Houston and apologized to the girl’s mother. DFPS is the parent agency of CPS. “It’s bad enough if it’s just one bad rogue worker. It concerns me that it may be bigger than that, and they need to make sure it’s not just one person, and they’ve got to find a way to protect these kids,” said attorney Mike Schneider, who represented the 14-year-old girl’s mother. DFPS said in a statement that the CPS support staff member in question was terminated August 10.

Texas Scorecard asked DFPS if they have conducted an investigation to determine if this staffer’s act is a widespread problem in the agency or not. They did not respond to the question before publication.

Carrie Wilcoxson, a former CPS investigator and current child and family case consultant and advocate, has fought for years to hold DFPS and CPS accountable. Texas Scorecard asked her if this staffer’s act is a pattern in the agency. “That is a rare instance, thank God,” she replied. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real problems. “I can’t stand the fact that most of the department’s investigators and case workers are ill trained and don’t know what they’re doing. Because they don’t, they’re bulldozing over people’s rights and due process, and some of them abuse their power.”

It again should be pointed out that DFPS staff members were caught undermining public servants’ attempts to protect children from gender mutilation and hormone manipulation. In this instance, a CPS staff member was allegedly caught encouraging a child to enter the sex-trafficking world after she asked to be fed.

Maybe this specific issue is a rare occurrence. But, as pointed out in the first article in this series, DFPS has a pattern of harming children in their care.

A Threat to Children

What happens to children in DFPS’ care has been highlighted with the ongoing, decade-long federal lawsuit that has plagued the agency. Where public servants—specifically state lawmakers and the Office of the Governor—have apparently failed to hold DFPS accountable, the courts are trying.

The Texas Tribune reported that in 2015, federal Judge Janis Jack found DFPS had exposed foster children in their care to an “unreasonable risk of harm,” and that they left the system worse off than before. This is before Jamie Masters’ time as DFPS commissioner. Judge Jack damned the taxpayer-funded, public servant-supervised agency in her 260-page ruling:

Texas’s foster care system is broken, and it has been that way for decades. … All the while, Texas’s … children have been shuttled throughout a system where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm.

This lawsuit is ongoing, and, according to The Texas Tribune, Judge Jack has had DFPS on a very short leash, demanding changes to improve the agency. But DFPS hasn’t improved fast enough.

In 2021, The Texan reported that since January 2020, there’s been a dramatic increase of children without placement (CWOP) staying in a government office until DFPS can find a place for them. Former DFPS Commissioner Masters complained about alleged agency staffing shortages as a cause for this result, and claimed these shortages were due to the Chinese coronavirus. The Texan reported another complaint from Masters about Judge Jack—specifically, that foster homes with high rates of neglect or abuse must submit to militant transparency. DFPS claimed this prevented such homes from accepting problematic youths, while others quit being a foster home altogether.

Considering her October 2022 filing with the OOG, complaining appears to be a pattern with Masters. But where does DFPS stand now?

On January 27, WFAA reported Judge Jack noted while DFPS had made some improvements, there were still issues. These include dropped calls for those reporting alleged abuse or neglect of children and, again, children without placements (CWOP). CPS reported that a day earlier, their number of CWOP cases reached 69. Judge Jack wants that number to be zero by June. She also threatened DFPS with multiple contempt of court charges because of unaddressed issues that she says should have been fixed long ago. “You are not getting the urgency,” she admonished them.

In this investigative series’ first article, the Office of the Governor’s investigative report into DFPS Commissioner Masters’ complaint included quotes from multiple OOG staff members about state lawmakers’ concern about Masters’ performance running DFPS. Abbott fired her on November 28, 2022.

On October 10, 2022, while fighting to keep her job, Masters emailed State Rep. Frank a recording of herself speaking at the Assemblies of God Foster Care Network Conference 2022. She encouraged others to engage in adoption, possibly as part of her effort to reduce DFPS’ number of CWOP cases before facing Judge Jack again.

“Over 300 faith leaders from around the country prayed just for me Thursday night! I have never experience[d] anything like that. They truly gave me life,” Masters wrote Frank. “I’ve had so many offers to speak and I hope you feel I represented us well.” Frank’s office provided this email as part of their response to Texas Scorecard’s open records request. No response to her email from Frank, if one exists, was provided.

In January 2023, Abbott-appointed Commissioner Stephanie Muth faced an upset Judge Jack. Muth didn’t promise they would hit the mandate of zero CWOP cases by June. “There is a lack of placements. It’s a placement of last resort at this point, but there are a number of reasons why, so we have to tackle this from a number of different angles.”

This known public history of DFPS, their atrocious record when it comes to children in their care, and their resistance to accountability in the ongoing lawsuit raises an important question. Why, on July 19, 2021, did Gov. Greg Abbott decide to turn to this scandal-ridden agency to protect children from surgical mutilation and hormone manipulation?

These are unproven procedures prescribed for those showing signs of gender dysphoria. As was previously reported, DFPS rebelled against Abbott’s instruction. Couldn’t he have predicted that?

Texas Scorecard asked Frank’s office for comment on the Jaime Masters situation. No response was received before publication.

Rumination

Thanks to records provided by State Rep. Frank, more “dancing men” clues have been gathered to help crack the code of why Jamie Masters was fired from the role of DFPS commissioner. When comparing Frank’s records with Masters’ complaint, the Office of the Governor’s investigative report in the first article, and events widely reported, a message is starting to appear—a startling one about a powerful agency Texans fund.

However, it should be noted that there were certain records Frank chose not to disclose, as did Gov. Abbott. Only by gathering more “dancing men” can we be more certain what the coded message is and uncover has been happening at a taxpayer-funded state agency.

There’s one more state lawmaker from whom Texas Scorecard obtained records that have yet to be presented in this case: State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock).

In Part 3, Texas Scorecard will present what Sen. Perry provided and review the threat the Department of Family and Protective Services poses to parents and families.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.

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