Thousands of kids victimized after CPS oversight

Jamie Petronella and court documents related to the care of her children (KXAN Photo)
Jamie Petronella and court documents related to the care of her children (KXAN Photo)

BLANCO, Texas (KXAN) — A community is mourning the death of a 15-month-old girl. Sunny Dakota Slade-Bort died Thursday morning. Her mother, 23-year-old Jamie Petronella, and her mother’s boyfriend, 24-year-old John Lawrence, are charged with injury to a child. Doctors also noted there was evidence of sexual assault to the child.

The children who were under the care of Lawrence and Petronella are part of the thousands of Texas kids who are either placed in a substitute home or whose families go through a rehabilitation process each year. KXAN found Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ records show one in six of those children who are then returned home are victimized in the next five years.

Petronella had a history with Child Protective Services and got assistance from what’s called Family Based Safety Services, court filings indicate. Those records state that CPS originally investigated the parents Vincent Bort and Petronella for “neglectful supervision and physical neglect” of the three children in January 2015. CPS investigators found human feces, urine and vomit in buckets throughout the home. Bort admitted to using drugs. The children and the mother went to live with the father’s grandparents, as part of a safety plan, according to the court records.

The documents also state that the mother got assistance from Family Based Safety Services (FBSS) from February through August of 2015. FBSS caseworkers help families make changes and keep children safe without placing the kids into foster homes. Sometimes kids also enter substitute care, where a family member or friend will watch over a child. The statistics in the DFPS annual report from last year show it served 57,728 children in substitute care or FBSS in fiscal year 2010. Of the children who returned home, 10,200 were victimized in some way between 2010 and fiscal year 2015.

“Child abuse and neglect is a public health issue,” said outgoing DFPS Commissioner Judge John Specia in a recent interview with KXAN News. “It’s driven by poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues. It is not something this agency can stop or prevent itself. There are resources that are needed in every community.”

Kelly White, CEO of The SAFE Alliance, said families need long-term, “wrap-around” services and said the issues are not simply a CPS issues. White says the state will need to invest money in order to provide more support for families in need. The SAFE Alliance also oversees Austin Children’s Shelter.

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