AUSTIN, Texas - Mikisha Bridgewater continues to grieve the loss of her three-year-old grandchild.
"Her arm was broken, chest cavity beaten in," she said.
Now she stands at the capitol demanding justice for not only her granddaughter, but the 103 children in Texas who died in foster care since 2020. She said Thursday at a press conference she felt alone and unheard when she spoke up.
"The pictures, the severity of the burns, and nobody has yet been called or arrested about it. But they drag me through the mud, where we lose our home, lost our grandkids," she said.
She joined a coalition at the Texas State Capitol Thursday fighting for action to be taken. They are demanding a full investigation into Texas Child Protective Services and Health and Human Services’ childcare licensing division. They are also demanding an investigation into alleged racism with minority childcare providers.
"We also need our legislators to get back in with another special session, and we need comprehensive legislation," said Bridgewater.
Candace Matthews is leading the group and said the CPS system is creating an environment that allows children to be harmed, not protected.
"Miss Bridgewater did not deserve for her granddaughter to lose her life. It is CPS and residential childcare licensing's job to protect the children in Texas," said Matthews.
Sarah Alonzo was in the foster care system for 11 years. She said she also went unheard after reporting a sexual assault at just eight-years-old.
"I was just moved around and they were just saying I was bad and not believing me," she said.
"I am bringing the hammer of accountability, because if we don't stand for our children in the state of Texas then we will fall for anything," said Matthews.
Texas DFPS which oversees Child Protective Services sent FOX 7 Austin this statement:
"The vast majority of these deaths were the result of preexisting medical conditions, or abuse and neglect that occurred before the child came into our care.
The total number of deaths each year since at least 2017 has remained steadily between 37 and 44. These figures are similar to national rates of children who die in foster care systems throughout the country.
In the relatively few cases of abuse and neglect that have been reported in placements, CPI staff investigate all allegations and make appropriate recommendations based upon their findings, up to and including removal of children.
DFPS does not file or pursue criminal charges. That responsibility falls to law enforcement and the courts.
For information on facility inspections, licensing and the status of certain facilities, you would have to reach out to HHSC.
We have numerous prevention programs aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect. You can find an exhaustive list of our efforts in the 2021 Child Maltreatment and Near Fatalities Annual Report: https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/About_DFPS/Reports_and_Presentations/PEI/documents/2022/2022-03-01_Child_Maltreatment_Fatalities_and_Near_Fatalities_Annual_Report.pdf
Prevention information begins on Page 66."
FOX 7 Austin also reached out to the HHS, which responded with this statement, mentioning a particular childcare licensing facility:
"There is no higher priority in the foster care system than protecting the health and safety of children and young people. That’s why HHSC takes the risk of harm to children extremely seriously and takes enforcement actions when necessary.
On Dec. 6, 2021, HHSC notified Children of Diversity by letter the child placing agency is being placed on probation. The organization requested an administrative review of the decision and that review is ongoing. Attached is the probation letter to Children of Diversity.
For questions about child abuse and neglect investigations, contact DFPS."
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