Judge orders Texas officials to submit plans for foster care fixes


Highlights

U.S. District Judge Janis Jack released interim orders on Monday.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services must submit plans in 16 areas.

Many of the plans must be submitted by the year’s end.

A federal judge has ordered Texas officials to create several studies and plans — some due as soon as three months from now — to fix major problems plaguing the state’s foster care system.

In November, two special masters released a series of recommendations on how to overhaul the foster care system. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack, who in 2015 declared the state’s foster care system unconstitutional, ordered the special masters’ report but hasn’t made a decision yet on whether the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees the foster care system, should implement the recommendations.

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In the meantime, Jack has ordered the state agency to start planning ways to fix several problems within the foster care system such as appointing an attorney to each foster child in the state’s permanent care, ensuring that caseworkers see such children monthly and lowering caseworker turnover rates.

“The crux of this case is that the burden has always been on the State to provide constitutional safeguards to children over whom they have custody. The refusal by the State to accept this burden … brought us to this point,” Jack said in her order Monday.

READ: Paxton, federal judge tussle over foster care fix

Jack ordered the two special masters to work with the state agency to submit many of the plans to the court by this year.

“We are carefully reviewing the interim order, which clearly recognizes that Commissioner (Hank) Whitman and state leadership agree with the need for significant improvement of our foster care system,” said agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins. “We look forward to working with the Texas Legislature on this issue.”

Jack dedicated several pages of Monday’s filing explaining how even though attorneys for the state have argued in court that the state shouldn’t have to implement the special masters’ recommendations, state officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Whitman, have lamented about how troubled the foster care system is.

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Crimmins has said that the agency had already been working to fix some of the issues that the special masters’ had recommended. Jack acknowledged those “good-faith attempts” but said that doesn’t mean she can’t order the state implement the special masters’ recommendations.

The five dozen recommendations include eliminating the use of foster care group homes, limiting the workload of Child Protective Services caseworkers and proposing a plan to curb caseworker turnover rates.

Jack’s Monday order requires the state and special masters to submit plans in 16 areas. Some of them also include addressing missing information in foster children’s health care records, establishing a 24-hour hotline for foster children to report abuse and placing younger children in family-like homes.



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