For Immediate Release
Contact: Peter Clark, 512-473-2274
AUSTIN - Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals partially upheld a federal District Court ruling calling for significant changes to the Texas foster care system to protect the constitutional rights of Texas children.
Kate Murphy, Senior Child Welfare Policy Associate at Texans Care for Children, issued the following statement regarding the ruling:
"The judges, two Reagan appointees and one Bush appointee, clearly found a substantial risk of harm to children in the Texas foster care system as a result of high caseworker caseloads, systemic deficiencies in monitoring and oversight of foster care placements, and a lack of sufficient action for decades by Texas leaders to fix many of the most egregious problems affecting the safety of children in its care.
“It’s time for Texas leaders to build on the recent progress they’ve made, eliminate the unconstitutional risks to children that the judges confirmed, and work on the other critical improvements — like ensuring that children recover and actually thrive in foster care — that the judges left up to the state.
"The ruling is a vindication for the plaintiffs who suffered abuse in the Texas foster care system and, indeed, all children in Texas foster care whom the Fifth Circuit judges found are ‘at substantial risk of harm’ while in the state's care. While the court record highlights areas where the state is making progress, such as improving placement options for children through Community Based Care, the opinion also agreed with the lower court that for decades DFPS has dragged its feet on making meaningful reforms.
“It's worth noting that Judge Higginbotham, one of the three judges on the panel, stated, in a separate, strongly worded opinion that the District Court decision should have been upheld in its entirety. Judge Higginbotham specifically pointed out that the caseload range included in the District Court’s remedy was entirely appropriate as it was both informed by DFPS workload studies and national best practices. We agree that Texas should set a clear caseload range based on national best practices and ensure DFPS has the funding to hire more caseworkers and reduce caseloads to better ensure the safety and well-being of children in Texas foster care. The Legislature made a significant downpayment on this effort two years ago, although most of the progress in reducing caseloads has been among caseworkers that investigate abuse and neglect rather than caseworkers for children already removed from their parents. Furthermore, as the court said in the majority opinion, ‘Simply adding more employees has continually proven ineffectual. High-volume hiring is not a solution.’ Texas needs caseload standards and better caseload management.
"Although the Fifth Circuit found that some of the District Court's remedies may have gone beyond what is required by the U.S. Constitution, we hope DFPS, the Legislature, and the Governor will move forward with their own fixes to accomplish what is required by the state’s responsibility to support and protect children in foster care. In particular, when kids enter foster care, state leaders must work to provide them with family-like settings rather than more institutionalized homes like Residential Treatment Centers. Moving towards more family-like settings is better for kids and required by the new Family First Prevention Services Act. State leaders must also work to improve the state's data system, support for older youth in care, and health care for kids in foster care. As we approach the legislative session, we hope our state leaders will build on the progress they made over the last two years, ensure children are at least safe in Texas foster care, and aim to go beyond basic safety to ensure that children in foster care are healing and thriving."