Neighbors, former employees say immigrant juveniles escape Baytown-area facility

Once an elementary school, the building on Ilfrey Street is now operating in Harris County as a holding facility for undocumented immigrant children, almost entirely off the public radar since 2010.

"I've seen them climbing over the fences at night time," said Gregory Dawson, a longtime resident of the Lynchburg neighborhood. "They came in my yard many a time. I've seen them hiding."

Dawson also said he can bear witness that many of the undocumented children who brought to the facility simply cut and run.

"Up to twenty or more — and that's just the ones I've seen," added Dawson.

Resident Nadine Goodney said she has feared for her grandchildren's safety ever since Baptist Children and Family Services quietly invaded her neighborhood during President Barack Obama's administration.

"Who is to say that these people aren't going to get out of there, attack them, steal them, kill them, rob them?," asked Goodney. "I don't know what's going to happen at night time."

"I said, 'This is our neighborhood and we got kids,' and they said, 'This ain't your neighborhood any longer,'" described Dawson, speaking of his interaction with BCFS employees.

Speaking exclusively and anonymously to FOX 26 News, two former BCFS workers offered detailed, inside knowledge of the highly-secret shelter.

"When I was employed there, I know of three escapes and once they are over that fence, we cannot touch them," said one of the former employees.

Both of the former BCFS workers confirmed witnessing violence among the mostly Central American teenagers under detention.

"Some that were gang affiliated, some that were here because they were running from gangs," said a former worker who believes a significant number of detained juveniles were dangerous.

The former BCFS workers also confirmed alarming rates of disease among the detainees with little or no ongoing official oversight from state or local inspectors.

"Some of them had TB," said a former BCFS employee. "We had to walk around the facility with masks on. A lot of scabies. Sexually-transmitted diseases, like I said, the scabies was a big thing there and the protective stuff they told you to wear, you just didn't feel safe with that because you still have to go home to your family."

Both former workers believe the facility should be shut down.

"Somebody is getting rich behind this," said one of the former employees. "That's why they hated it when they ran away." 

After FOX 26 News reached out for comment to the San Antonio-based Baptist Child and Family Services, the public information officer for the group released the following statement:

In response to your inquiry, I present to you the following facts regarding the Baytown Shelter facility.  

First and most importantly, it is our duty to provide a safe and healthy environment for the youth and communities we serve as well as the staff that are employed with the BCFS Health and Human Services. We take this responsibility very seriously. We also take false information, slander and defamation very seriously. We therefore thank you for your efforts to obtain factual information.   

The Baytown facility is a licensed General Residential Operation and is monitored regularly by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services.  We are operating with a valid license and meet all requirements. The facility was audited (unannounced) by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services on October 3, 2017, with zero deficiencies.  In addition, as recent as two weeks ago, the regional Residential Child Care Licensing Supervisor for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services reported that Baytown was, “hands down” one of the best.    

With that, please note the water damage sustained in the boy’s dormitory occurred from urban street flooding during a severe rain event. This was not stream or river flooding. There was no contamination and there was a slope grade modification made to mitigate this from reoccurring.  

Regarding your report of leaking sewage, the septic system sustained damage when a service vehicle backed over a septic tank causing a collapse. The septic tank was replaced. Septic and water systems are inspected and regulated by appropriate authorities. We are 100% in compliance with all waste water treatment requirements for Harris County.    

The health information you were given is also erroneous and it would be a disservice to share this inaccurate information and instill fear in this or any community. At BCFS Health and Human Services -Baytown we employ a full time healthcare provider and nursing staff. Youth are treated onsite for minor injuries and typical childhood illnesses.  There has never been a case of tuberculous at the facility. The only rare, more serious illness since this facility opened has been the flu.    

Lastly, there has never been a serious altercation involving the youth at this facility. Any incident that has taken place can best be described as what might typically occur with teenagers on school grounds. BCFS Health and Human Services does not operate detention centers. The teens are not on lock down, this is a shelter - they experience very normal adolescent behaviors where they start to test the limits, take risks, break rules. Regardless, under our supervision, we provide proper care, supervision and protection to each child or youth entrusted to us.  

In the past three years we have had seven youth leave the facility without permission. 

Thank you for reaching out and allowing us to provide you this factual information regarding BCFS Health and Human Services-Baytown.

FOX 26 also contacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but that organization has not responded.