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10-Year-Old Boy Slept in Ditches To Avoid Abuse

October 8, 1987

EL PASO, Texas (AP) _ A 10-year-old boy who slept in ditches and crates to avoid being beaten at home was not moved to a foster home because there was no concrete evidence of abuse, a government case worker testified.

Department of Human Services investigator Alejandro Moreno testified at a hearing Wednesday that he saw no bruises on the third-grader when he found out five months ago that the youth was sleeping outside.

He said he took no action to place the child in a foster home because he believed the boy was in no immediate danger.

District Judge Enrique Pena became visibly angry when Moreno said there was not enough proof of abuse.

″You have a statement from a kid saying he’d been thrown against a wall,″ the judge said. ″What better proof?″

Pena ordered the department to place the youth in a foster home.

In another hearing two days before in the same court, caseworkers for the state agency testified they didn’t have time to investigate neglect charges against a family in which a 12-year-old boy later shot his sister in the head. The girl recovered.

County Attorney Joe Lucas said Wednesday he is investigating whether the department has been negligent.

Human Services regional administrator Joe Tarin said in a prepared statement the same day that the department ″will not address individual child abuse cases in the media.″

However, Department officials have said in the past that they can investigate only the most serious cases because of a lack of employees.

Wednesday’s session was intended to be a detention hearing for the east El Paso County youth, who is suspected in two burglaries, but turned into an examination of how the Human Services Department handled reports the boy had been abused.

Moreno testified that he knew of reports by at least one neighbor and an unidentified relative that the youth had been abused by his father, but he had no physical evidence. Instead, he talked to the youth at school and told him not to sleep in ditches.

The department made an informal, non-binding deal with the family in June that the youth would live with his sister and closed the case, according to testimony. But the boy continued sleeping in ditches into late September, when El Paso’s nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s, witnesses testified.

A neighbor, Stella Cardoza, said she saw the youth’s father beat his son once. She said she called the sheriff’s department, but that the youth told a deputy he didn’t want his father to go to jail.

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