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Mother says her 2-year-old died while in CPS custody for 6 weeks

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Posted at 4:13 PM, Jul 17, 2023

HARKER HEIGHTS, Texas — When children are brought to Child Protective Services, one might assume they would be protected and safe. That was not the experience Leah Joseph's family had when her sons were taken away in September 2022.

"My baby he told me all the other babies were sick with bumps all over their faces," Joseph told 25 News.

Joseph's six children were removed from her home after an anonymous tip reported her for violence and drug use. Despite passing numerous drug tests, she said her kids were still taken to live at the Garden of Hope Central Texas.

"I definitely believe that place was filthy," Joseph said.

"My 13-year-old, at the time I had bought him some Jordans and I was going to bring it to him. He said, 'Mom don't bring it. This place is too dirty for Jordans,'".

The boys were at the facility for just over six weeks when she was told her youngest had passed away.

"I fell out to the ground and then when I opened my eyes back up, she was standing over me saying 'Ms. Joseph, Ms. Joseph'," Joseph said.

"My boyfriend had helped me up off the ground and I was like 'What are you talking about?'."

The news came as a complete shock. According to two-year-old Panache's examination prior to entering the facility he had "no ongoing medical issues" and was reported to be "healthy" and "developing appropriately".

"There's something wrong when a government can come into a person's home and drag their children out based on an anonymous phone call when they're healthy children, no broken bones, no marks on their body," Joseph's lawyer Vic Feazell said.

"They are taken away for months until one of them dies and they suddenly just close an investigation and drop it."

Joseph is working with the Vic Feazell Law Office to bring justice for Panache. The two filed a wrongful death claim and sent a settlement demand to the facility.

"Our goal here is to compensate this sweet lady and her children for their loss of their sweet little brother," Feazell said.

"We would also like to see some changes made so this does not happen to other people."

Joseph said she believes neglect played a role in her son's death. One of her other children said the last time he saw his brother alive, he was not being care of.

"My 14-year-old was awakened at three in the morning by the sound of Panache screaming," Joseph said.

"He made it all the way from the teenager side to the baby side of the facility. He was in there with my baby for about 20 minutes before anybody came who worked there."

The family is devastated at the situation and hopes to prevent anyone else from losing a sweet and caring child with so much life left to live.

"I don't want another kid dying from this. It's very hard for me still," Joseph said.

"His birthday is in August and he won't even get a chance to turn three."

25 News reached out to the Department of Family and Protective Services and their lawyer for an interview or statement.

DFPS said they were "unable to provide any comment or an interview" citing case-specific information is confidential by law".

They did provide the below information on their process and to give background on how they handle these cases.

We remove children from their homes only after receiving court orders to do so. The formal definition of neglect defined by the Texas Family Code (TFC) §261.001(4) is an act or failure to act by a person responsible for a child's care, custody, or welfare evidencing the person's blatant disregard for the consequences of the act or failure to act that results in harm to the child or that creates an immediate danger to the child's physical health or safety. Medical neglect is a subset of the statutory definition of neglect and involves the following acts or omissions by a person: failing to seek, obtain, or follow through with medical care for a child, with the failure resulting in or presenting an immediate danger of death, disfigurement, or bodily injury or with the failure resulting in an observable and material impairment to the growth, development, or functioning of the child.

All reports of abuse or neglect made to Statewide Intake are vetted by intake staff to determine whether the allegations meet the state definition of abuse or neglect. Once that determination has been made, cases are forwarded to regional investigators who make contact with a family to determine whether there is reason to believe an allegation is accurate. Investigators can also rule out cases, or find that they are unable to determine whether an allegation is accurate.

Any time a child dies while in a state-licensed facility both DFPS and HHSC staff investigate the incident to determine what happened. DFPS shares any findings with HHSC, which licenses such facilities. Any action related to the facility is handled by HHSC.