Human Trafficking and the Trappings of Child Protective Services in Texas

The story of Texas native, Brianna Baucum is an unfortunate all-too-familiar narrative of cyclical abuse and a court system that disproportionately takes away Black children.

An October 2020 report from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services titled “Disproportionality and Disparity Analysis” revealed an ugly truth about Black children who come in contact with the state’s Child Protective Services (CPS). According to the report, Black children are 1.6 times more likely to be removed from their families than white children in 2020 once their parents or caretakers were reported to CPS, 1.7 times more likely to be reported and 1.9 times more likely to be investigated. In Dallas County, where Black children make up a mere 22 percent of the child population, they are 43 percent more likely than children of other ethnicities to be removed from their homes by the county and turned over to the state.

If these disproportionate rates give the impression that there is just an abundance of Black children in Texas that live in dysfunctional and/or subpar home environments, that is what the Texas CPS system would like citizens of the state to believe as it has built a lucrative social service system on the backs of re-homed Black children, in a manner similar to the ways that mass incarceration functions as an economic driver.

And according to Dallas native, Tonya Stafford, founder of It’s Going to Be OK, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating human trafficking in Texas, if you follow the money trail and job security that comes with taking Black children out of their homes, the motives of the Texas CPS system often go beyond the goodwill of removing a child from an alleged dangerous environment.

“It’s all about the money,” Tonya said about the disproportionate amount of Black children who end up under the state’s care. “If you don't have any children in care who gonna pay the state workers? Who gonna pay the foster care parents? Who gonna pay the D.A. to terminate your [parental] rights? Who gonna pay the court-appointed attorneys? It’s all a cycle.”

Tonya, who is a product of the Texas CPS system, was the victim of trafficking when she was 13-years-old. It is her personal experience with the system that has led to her advocacy and creation of It’s Going to Be Ok. It was the trauma-informed care she received that contributed to her healing and is aiding her in a current battle for another young Black woman named Brianna Baucum who has not only been a victim of trafficking and the callousness of the CPS but one who has also had a child taken from her under familiar circumstances.

Tonya came in contact with Brianna’s story just over a year ago. Brianna, who is the adoptive mother of a young daughter named Journi, had Journi taken away from her in 2019 under allegations of abuse, despite there being insufficient evidence of abuse. Brianna, who became a victim of sex trafficking by age 10, has been bullied by the CPS in its efforts to permanently separate Journi from her. And like Tonya, Brianna’s adoptive father has also been named as her alleged abuser and someone of influence that has been instrumental in taking Journi away from her.

“She was referred to me by a friend of hers and I didn't take the case initially in the beginning because I was busy on other cases,” Tonya says of Brianna’s case regarding her daughter Journi. “But when I kind of dug into her background and said, okay, I'll help her. It's just a termination case.”

What Tonya perceived to be a mere case of Brianna’s parental rights being terminated, proved to be much more layered. She decided to start going with Brianna on court-appointed visits to see Journi as an advocate and was perplexed as to why Brianna was receiving such unjust treatment by the court. Tonya’s organization began doing a deeper investigation into Brianna’s story and the correlation with what had been taking place with Journi. It was then that they discovered that Brianna’s own background as a child of foster care was being weaponized against her as a foster mother and that she was in desperate need of resources, namely better legal representation.

“I noticed that she didn't have any good representation as far as you know, a good support network. And then I met her attorney, which was a pro bono attorney, and I said this is not a termination case. And I noticed that her attorney was not equipped to help her. So we hired, we hired an attorney that we felt was good for her.”

“After I hired the attorney, we started kind of digging because her background kept coming up. CPS kept bringing up her background foster care child. She was a former foster youth and we kept hearing things. And so we got together and we basically said, this is not a termination case. And something deeper is going on. So we hired PIs to go to Houston to see what was really going on. And then we found out that she was severely abused while she was in the foster care system. And she was severely abused by her adoptive father, Kenneth Baucum when we got the documents that we were receiving from help. And in those documents, it basically said that she was a human trafficking victim.”

It was at the point of It’s Going to Be Ok’s involvement with the Brianna-Journi case that Tonya and her team decided to make sure Brianna would go “off the grid” as a means of protecting her while they worked on better representation for the case the courts were trying to build against Brianna’s parenting of Journi. Tonya recognized that beyond the immediacy of what Brianna was enduring in her parental rights battle over Journi, there were larger issues Brianna was facing that were unattended to from her own time in the foster care system.

“We took her off-grid to protect her. And then I implemented some services that she needed: trauma-informed care, trauma-informed counseling. The basic necessities she was needing that she never got while in care of CPS and the state.”

Tonya says the cycle of CPS in Texas is one that seeks to ensnare generations, once a family member is introduced to being the property of the state. She says that in Brianna’s case, the abuse she endured at the hands of her adoptive father coupled with the mere fact that she was in the foster care system, resurfaced at the point Brianna adopted Journi.

“We went through a timeline, through the time that she went into this facility. She had no contact with these people, no contact at all, with these people from Houston, nothing, she was safe. She didn't have any children. She was thriving. And until she adopted Journi and surfaced back out is when he came after her again. And the abuse started all over again as an adult.”

According to Tonya, the courts were attempting to declare Brianna as mentally unfit to care for Journi, despite Brianna’s ability to pass a series of psych evaluations. Tonya also states that based on what she and her team have witnessed with their own eyes, Journi does not operate in fear around Brianna, which based on Tonya’s expertise is a tell-tell sign of a child being abused.

“We established during the trial that there was a bond that they had that you cannot break. She has been consistent with her visits. When she walks in the room, Journi screams and jumps in her mommy's arms.”

“They tried to say she [Brianna] was mentally ill,” Tonya continued. “She's had three psych evaluations and she's passed all psych evaluations. Only thing she has is PTSD. And I have PTSD as a trauma victim. I mean, it doesn't go away. And how do you deal with PTSD? You get help and support. You know you go to counseling, you learn how to deal with everything. You learn how to deal with your triggers and different things like that.”

Contrary to different allegations of abuse levied against Brianna, Tonya spoke very favorably about her parenting skills based on months of observing interactions between her and Journi, describing her approach as similar to that of a Montessori school educator.

“She talks to her or she redirects her. And I was like, where the hell does she learn all of these [skills]? I didn't have those skills, but she started taking parenting classes on her own. She started learning different things like how to deal with a child that might have severe ADHD. Her parenting style is off the charts.”

So, why did a child who supposedly loves her adopted mother and is receiving quality parenting from someone who understands the cruelty that can come with being a child in the foster care system, have to be removed from her mother’s home for nearly two years based on unfound allegations? According to Tonya, the answers lie in how the CPS system is structured.

“I believe that it went deeper than just, you know, the calls and different things. I think it's something else behind it. I can't tell you exactly what's behind it. But what I can tell you is that most victims of severe abuse while in the care of CPS and come out like she graduated high school, she went to college, but it's always a stigma on foster care youth. They're targeted. If you go and look up some research on foster care children, it's just like a recycled system. So if you get their children, you already had them, then you get their children. And then when they're grown, you get their children. It's a target on their back.”

How to support Brianna and Journi’s case as well as Tonya’s advocacy

For residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Tonya advises that showing up to the court to show support for Brianna and Journi is an ideal way to lobby on their behalf. The proceedings will take place over the next two weeks at the 360th District Court-Family Court Services of Tarrant County (4th floor) located at 200 East Weatherford St. in Ft. Worth.

Additionally, there is a change.org petition nearing 25,000 signatures that is calling on the community to fight for justice for this family. Read more on their story there and sign the petition.

Finally, making a donation to It’s Going to Be Ok is a huge help in supporting their work to end human trafficking in the DFW. Tonya’s story as a founder, as well as Brianna’s story, is connected to the evils of human trafficking and its attempts to erase and irreparably damage the lives of its victims. But with our collective efforts, we can rid our society of a crime that preys on the most marginalized and silenced among us.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Donney Rose is a Writer, Educator, Organizer and Chief Content Editor at The North Star

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