By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Just days before Bryan's House—a Dallas care center for kids affected by HIV/AIDS—was set to celebrate its 20th anniversary, state authorities removed 18 foster children from the facility.
The children were removed over a two-week period after an X-ray revealed that a 5-month-old boy, who had lived at the center nearly since birth, had suffered both a broken collarbone and a fracture in a leg, and that neither injury had been spotted or treated by Bryan's House staff.
The children were removed as a precaution, CPS spokeswoman Marissa Gonzalez says, and Dallas police, who are leading the investigation, are careful to say that the injuries may have been the result of an accident. What is most puzzling, according to police, is that staffers say the baby boy was in good spirits before and after the X-ray and showed no signs that he was in pain, even though the broken collarbone was at least a week old and the broken leg even older.
"It's very hard to understand how this might have happened," says Lieutenant C.L. Williams, supervisor of the crimes against children unit. "There's not been any kind of pattern or history of abuse over there in 20 years. Everything I've heard over the years has been very positive about Bryan's House.
"It doesn't seem likely that a 5-month-old could do the kinds of things that would cause those kinds of injuries. It is hard, just on the surface, to think that this happened without some adult being involved in some way."
The incident, which made the front page of The Dallas Morning News Friday, comes at a particularly bad time for Bryan's House, which is trying to redefine itself. Last July, the center lost $70,000 in federal funding, and this year it stands to lose even more. That's because the federal government has chosen to spend the bulk of the funding it has set aside for HIV/AIDS treatment on medication rather than social services.
As a result, the center is now expanding its services to other children with special medical needs.
"For more than a decade we've been asked by hospitals, doctors and other parents to expand our mission," says David Thomas, Bryan's House executive director. "There are a lot of kids who need the same kind of care kids with AIDS need."
Tuesday, then, was supposed to be a celebration—both of Bryan's House's 20th anniversary and its expanded mission. Instead, Thomas was still taking phone calls from reporters wanting to know about the 5-month-old boy.
"There are so many safeguards for the kids there, so many built-in protections, I'm just confident that when it really comes out it will become clear that we've done everything we can to protect these children," Thomas says.
In the meantime, the Bryan's House day care, which serves 35-40 kids daily, has continued to operate. But until the investigation concludes, questions about the center will remain. Those questions perplex Ed Leibgott, the executive director of Youth for Tomorrow, which evaluates child care providers across the state.
"We evaluate around 225 residential providers across the state," says Leibgott, whose organization is based in Arlington. "Bryan's House, we consider it a top-tier program, top-tier."