Dallas Morning-News - December 17, 2015
by Robert T. Garrett
AUSTIN — Texas children who have been removed from their abusive and neglectful birth families face "unreasonable risk of harm” in the state’s foster care system, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi said Texas unconstitutionally has thrust about 12,000 Texas youngsters, already unlucky once by birth, into an underfunded and poorly run system of "substitute care” that in too many instances indelibly wounds them.
The system, usually called foster care, is overseen by the state Department of Family and Protective Services, the defendant in the class-action suit brought nearly five years ago by New York-based Children’s Rights.
Texas’ version violates the youths’ 14th Amendment rights to be free from harm while in state custody, Jack said.
"Texas’ foster care system is broken, and it has been that way for decades,” wrote Jack, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton. "It is broken for all stakeholders, including DFPS employees who are tasked with impossible workloads. Most importantly, though, it is broken for Texas’ [permanent managing conservatorship] children, who almost uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered.” There are about 12,000 children in that category, who’ve been in state care for at least a year.
Department spokeswoman Moody said Texas officials believe Jacks’ ruling ignored "great progress” they’ve made lately.
"Texas performs comparably with other states in this area, and has steadily improved,” Moody said. "The children in our care come to us after suffering horrific abuse and neglect, and we use all available state resources to protect and nurture them. We will continue to work constantly to find permanent homes for all of our foster children.”
The advocacy group Texans Care for Children, though, praised Jacks’ order.
"The judge has correctly identified a number of achievable steps that Texas can take to provide the safety and support these children need,” said former CPS caseworker Ashley Harris, the group’s child-welfare expert. "Hopefully CPS, legislative leaders and children’s advocates can now move past the legal battles and work together to come up with the solutions and funding to support these children,” she said.