The six children found murdered along with two adults in Houston over the weekend were no strangers to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which investigated at least four complaints about their care dating back 2011, and temporarily took the children into foster care two years later.
"The Department believes that the children are in immediate danger," wrote agency caseworker Brittney James on Sept. 19, 2013 in an affidavit petitioning a Houston court for the removal of all six from their mother, Valerie Jackson.
On Saturday, Harris County Sheriff's Office deputies discovered the children: Nathaniel Conley, 13; Dwayne Jackson Jr., 10; Honesty Jackson, 11; Caleb Jackson, 9; Jonah Jackson, 6; and Trinity Jackson, 7; along with their 40-year-old mother and father to all but the oldest, Dwayne Jackson, 50, fatally shot in their north Houston home.
David Ray Conley, father of the oldest child, was charged Sunday with multiple counts of capital murder and held without bail.
James' petition, obtained by The Texas Tribune, asked a court to remove the children stating that "reasonable efforts" had been made in the past to prevent the state from taking them into care. The final straw appears to be that Caleb, a child with brain damage, wandered from the home two months after Ms. Jackson signed an agreement with the state agency to keep the children safe.
It was not the first agreement Ms. Jackson had signed with the agency as a promise to keep the children free from harm. And despite the four complete investigations into their care logged by the agency, caseworkers received "multiple complaints" about the children's care in addition to those four cases.
The court approved James' request in the fall of 2013 and the children were taken into foster care but later returned home, apparently by March 2014, records show. It is not clear why.
DFPS Spokesman Patrick Crimmins on Monday declined to elaborate on the family's history with the agency's Child Protective Services division, also known as CPS. Nor would he say the last time the children were seen alive by caseworkers.
"It's confidential," he said.
But a review of the 2013 petition by CPS to take the children into foster care paints a stormy home life in which Ms. Jackson was battling threats from both of her children's fathers.
On Oct. 26, 2012, the agency was notified that Dwayne Jackson "threatened to kill" his girlfriend and all six children. CPS took "dispositions" on that complaint and others filed that month against the mother. "The mother would leave all the children at home alone multiple times," James' affidavit states. The agency caseworkers found they were "unable to determine" the validity of the complaints and referred the family to Family Based Safety Services, also known as FBSS, in January 2013.
That division tries to work with families in trouble, getting them to sign agreements to keep children safe and submit to future monitoring by the agency. When FBSS takes over in January 2013, James entered as the family's caseworker.
At the time, the family which included Conley, seemed amenable to working with the agency. "Valerie Jackson and David Conley were very cooperative at the assessment," James wrote. "Both stated they would comply with all recommendations given by the Department. "
But three months later, there were serious problems. In April 2013, Jackson contacted James and told her that she called the police on Conley for "domestic abuse." She told her caseworker that Conley had "chased her with a knife and cut her finger." He was arrested.
James' petition states that three of the children were considered by the agency to have "special needs." Jonah was diagnosed with a mild form of autism. Nathanial had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD and was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder. Caleb, who had suffered brain damage, would wander from the family's home. One such disappearance prompted James to ask a state district court in Harris County to approve the removal of the children from Jackson.
"Valerie Jackson searched the child on her own," the caseworker wrote. "But she eventually had to call law enforcement for assistance."
Caleb was eventually found by police in a park across the family's subdivision.
The petition was approved and the children taken into foster care.
The previous complaints investigated by CPS included:
On Dec. 23, 2011, DFPS received a report of possible physical abuse of three Jackson children: Caleb, Trinity and Jonah. The case was "ruled out with no significant factors found."
On Oct. 17, 2012, DFPS received a report of possible physical abuse of Nathaniel Conley and his four stepsiblings: Dwayne, Jonah, Caleb and Trinity. DFPS ruled the case "unable to determine."
On Oct. 22, 2012 — five days after DFPS was contacted about possible physical abuse of five of the children — the agency was contacted again about possible neglectful supervision with the same five children.
On July 29, 2013, the agency received a report of possible neglectful supervision of Caleb Jackson. Neglect was "ruled out" by the agency.
On July 30, 2013, James went to the Jackson home and wrote a new child safety agreement for the mother to sign. The plan anticipated problems because Conley was about to be released from the Harris County Jail after Jackson recanted her accusation she had been abused and the case was dismissed.
Two months after Ms. Jackson signed the agreement, however, Caleb went missing again, prompting James to return to court and asked that the children be placed in foster care.