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itounimarti3111111111111111111131J1 Main , 411,’ Can children be saved from politicians? By Edith Bierhorst Back Austin A series of events in Texas which began in the spring of 1973 triggered a revolution in the industry which cares for the quarter of a million American children who live in institutions. Federal courts, the U.S. Department of Justice, four committees of congress, and a score of private organizations have taken up the cause of these children, who are often hidden from the view and the conscience of the American people. Texas officialdom, never noted for progressivism in social welfare, responded to harsh criticism of conditions in its institutions by enacting a package of child protection legislation regarded by lending authorities as a model for other states. The rich giant has become a reluctant leader in a field that is littered with shame. In 1923 there were fewer than 1,600 children’s institutions in the country, most of them remnants of the orphanages established in the nineteenth century. Today there are 4,000, ranging from small ranch houses to sprawling high rises that shelter hundreds of children. Hidden away in rural areas, the inmates of large institutions can become the targets of the frustrations of their under-tfained, underpaid caretakers or the subjects of unethical professional practices. In the private sector, unscrupulous individuals have been able to make a quick profit from their institutions with names that evoke images of love and security. Many which claim to be refuges for “troubled youngsters” may actually be Edith Back was a welfare worker for many years. But she became so frustrated with the inadequacies of the welfare system that she decided to become a journalist and write about the problems. Her articles on Louisiana’s banished children in The Courier in 1974 helped bring national attention to the treatment of out-of-state children in Texas institutions. no more than dreary storehouses for children nobody wants. In Texas, it was especially easy for the public caretakers and the profiteers to ignore the needs of their vulnerable charges. The licensing law was antiquated, the standards unenforced, the monitoring system nonexistent, the politicians malleable. This very ease was not only the undoing of the Texas system but has proved to be a prime force in ending the notion that America is a child-centered society, as a flood of information on abuse of children across the nation followed the Texas scandals. In 1973, a child died in Liberty County while in the care Of a private commercial institution for emotionally disturbed children called Artesia Hall. Local officials and social workers demanded and got an investigation, the outcome of which was a murder charge filed against Artesia Hall’s administrator. Reporters revealed that the institution had been licensed by the Texas Department of Welfare over the objections of local professionals who knew of its deplorable conditions and mistreatment of its children. THESE revelations were followed by Gov. Dolph Briscoe’s appointment of a special task force to study children’s services. Investigations by the state attorney general and the House Committee on Human Resources of the Texas Legislature also began. Meanwhile, lawsuits had been filed in federal courts against the Texas Youth Council, alleging civil rights violations in the form of illegal incarceration and brutal treatment of children in the state training schools under the Council’s jurisdiction and against the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation for similar violations in the state schools for the mentally retarded. By mid-1973 the “discovery” of hundreds of out-of-state children in Texas institutions was made by Jerome Miller, the new director of the Illinois Division of Family and Children’s Services. The first thing Miller learned in his new job in Illinois was that his staff had been sending children to private institutions in Texas for more than a decade. Some 600 children in the legal custody of Miller’s Department were in Texas facilities, far from the watchful eyes of those entrusted with their care. Miller’s investigators widely publicized conditions they found, such as 60 children crammed into an abandoned schoolhouse that had been licensed to care for 24 emotionally disturbed wards. He found the child care staff with such qualifications as experience in chicken farming and sanitary engineering. Horror stories appeared in the media about dog runs and unventilated concrete blockhouses used to isolate recalcitrant children and bounties paid to neighbors who returned runaways. Within a period of a few weeks, more than 300 children were returned to Illinois after bitter denunciations by Miller and a number of child advocacy groups, which were shaken from their lethargy. On another front, a class action suit was filed by the mothers of three Louisiana children in private Texas institutions. The total numbers of the “class” were unknown since they had been sent to Texas by two Louisiana state agencies and sundry local juvenile courts, with no central registry. The estimates exceeded 700. The Texas Welfare Department’s new interim chief of licensing, Randy Pendleton, said there was no way for the Department to know the totals, but an informal 1975 survey, 16 months after the removal of the Illinois children, showed 1,250 out-of-state children in private Texas institutions. \(Under new licensing laws, all institutions are required to file this By the end of 1974, reports to the governor by the attorney general and the Interagency Task Force on Youth Care and Rehabilitation upheld the allegations made against Texas’ system of child welfare. Both made sweeping recommendations for its total overhaul. The report to the Legislature by the House Committee on Human Resources, headed by Rep. Carlos Truan, came to this bitter conclusion: Public and private service-delivery facilities are targets of much well-deserved criticism, joined by the Legislature which must bear a significant portion of the responsibility. But those who feel the least guiltthe average Texas citizensmust also accept a share of the blame, for they did not watch closely enough to see that November 28, 1975 13