TX foster care ministry accused of sexual abuse

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- A $7 million lawsuit alleges children were "serially sexually abused" and neglected at a Baptist children's home in Texas.

The Texas Baptist Home for Children (TBHC) -- an "affiliated ministry" of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention -- did not respond specifically to the suit but told Baptist Press it maintains the highest standards of safety for children in its care.

The lawsuit, filed April 5 in Tarrant County civil court, claims seven siblings under age 14 suffered sexual and physical abuse as well as "serious medical and other neglect" in 2013 while under the care of foster parents at cottages owned by TBHC in Waxahachie, Texas. Among the suit's allegations are that TBHC failed to "properly investigate reports of abuse," "perform adequate background checks or follow-ups on foster parents" and "take prompt action against perpetrators."

Hal Browne, an attorney representing the siblings, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram three of the male siblings were sexually abused by "other, older children" while the four additional siblings suffered neglect.

The plaintiffs are requesting awards "in excess of" $1 million for each of the seven children, according to a copy of the suit provided to BP by Browne.

"We don't file lawsuits lightly," Browne told the Star-Telegram. "If we didn't feel the abuse was severe and long-term, we wouldn't have filed the lawsuit."

TBHC interim president Randy Odom told BP April 10 he had not been served with the suit yet but noted all TBHC foster parents undergo a "very extensive process" to be licensed.

"Our standards go well beyond state standards," Odom said.

The suit names the SBTC as a codefendant, noting TBHC is an affiliated ministry of the convention. The SBTC has "representation" on the TBHC trustee board and provides funding to the ministry, according to the lawsuit.

The SBTC told BP in a statement it "is aware of the lawsuit, and we pray for a resolution that facilitates the continued ministry of the Texas Baptist Home for Children as they meet the needs of at-risk children and families."

Another codefendant is the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas, a network of 400 churches listed on the SBTC website as a "related ministry" that "operates" the TBHC.

According to the Star-Telegram, allegations in the lawsuit appear to match facts from a previously publicized case in which the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services "found no deficiencies in its own inquiry of" the TBHC. The state recommended, however, that foster parents who cared for two of the siblings "increase supervision and not allow the children to have any unsupervised contact with one another."

The Southern Baptist Convention, with which the SBTC maintains a cooperative relationship, adopted a 2013 resolution "on sexual abuse of children" that "remind[ed] all Southern Baptists of their legal and moral responsibility to report any accusations of child abuse to authorities."

The resolution "call[ed] upon all Southern Baptists to cooperate fully with law enforcement officials in exposing and bringing to justice all perpetrators," urged the use of background checks for ministry staff and volunteers and "encourage[d] all denominational leaders ... to utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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