Texas Loses Child Welfare Lawsuit to Children’s Rights

U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack has ruled against the State of Texas in a class action lawsuit about the way the state’s child welfare agency handles certain foster youth.

The court will now appoint a special master to preside over a mandatory reform of the Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) program of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).

The lawsuit, filed by New York-based litigator Children’s Rights, specifically challenges the state’s treatment of children in PMC. These are the children for whom DFPS has not found a permanent placement – reunification with family or adoption being the main avenues – within a year of their removal.

Jack’s ruling leveled a scathing criticism on DFPS, saying that the foster care system is “broken” especially “for Texas’s PMC children, who almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.”

When Children’s Rights brought the lawsuit in 2011, there were about 12,000 children in PMC. About 6,400 of the PMC children had been in the system for three years or more; 500 had been in PMC for more than 10 years; and more than 1,300 aged out of PMC in 2008. More than a third of PMC children had experienced at least five foster care placements.

The ruling “is a wake-up call to the state that it cannot continue to violate the rights of children,” said co-counsel Paul Yetter, in a statement issued after the ruling. “It’s time for Texas to take the needed steps now to make foster care safe, rather than fighting to justify a broken system.”

Most specifics of the reform process will be determined once a special master is appointed. The master will be selected by next month, and will present an implementation plan to Judge Jack in the spring.

“The special master shall be mindful that Texas does not need to provide a perfect foster care system; just one that no longer violates the Constitution,” Jack wrote in her decision.

Judge Jack did spell out some improvements that she expected to be in the implementation plan, including:

  • Greater efficiency in the DFPS case management system.
  • Opportunities for DFPS workers to speak to foster youth without the presence of a foster parent or group home staff present.
  • Right-sizing of the workload required of DFPS caseworkers.
  • Addressing what the judge described as an “unwillingness to institute corrective actions” against foster care and group home providers who violate the law.

Click here to read the entire decision.

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