CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) — A federal judge ordered Texas to keep working with two masters she appointed to help reform its foster care system, which sends children to hotels and state offices at night due to a housing shortage, though the state insists it doesn’t need any help from the courts.
Texas officials objected in November to all 56 recommendations the two special masters made to improve care the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services provides to roughly 12,000 children in the state’s long-term foster care or “permanent managing conservatorship.” State officials called the suggestions “vague” and unnecessary in a Nov. 21 brief to the court.
Attorney General Ken Paxton said in the brief that Texas already has policies to reform the foster care system for its wards.
After 12 to 18 months, if Texas has taken a child from an abusive or neglectful family and has not returned the child to the family or found a new permanent home, the child becomes a ward of the state.
But U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack said in a Jan. 9 interim order that Texas cannot rely on “policies not practiced” to escape oversight from her and the masters.
“Policies not practiced are insufficient to address the constitutional deficiencies found in the Court’s 2015 Order. Even if the state has policies in place which could remedy the constitutional deficiencies, plaintiffs’ claims are not mooted and the court is not deprived of its remedial power,” she wrote in the interim order, citing her own bombshell 260-page order of December 2015 that excoriated Texas for running an understaffed foster care system where "rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm" in violation of foster children’s constitutional rights to due process.
Texas officials have known for decades that their foster care system is broken, but the problems persist, Jack wrote in the interim order.
"For over 20 years all studies conducted or commissioned by DFPS or by other state actors recommended many of the same reforms based on the same deficiencies found by this court, yet the problems still exist," Jack wrote.
Though she was unimpressed by Texas’ legal arguments, Jack praised Gov. Greg Abbott and DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman for speaking publicly about the need for a major overhaul of the foster care system.
“State investigators should be making timely contact with a child who is the subject of an allegation of abuse or neglect without fail. Anything less is completely unacceptable," Abbott wrote in an Oct. 12 letter to Whitman, also signed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Strauss.
Whitman then acknowledged in a letter to the governor that his agency is struggling to find homes for children.
“The result of this capacity issue is that the agency must enter into expensive child-specific contracts with providers that are not the best setting for children’s needs, or have children spend extended time sleeping in CPS offices, hotels, or emergency shelters," Whitman wrote in his Oct. 20 letter.
Whitman took over DFPS on May 1, 2016 after Abbott appointed him to overhaul the foster care system. Whitman, a former Marine, was a Texas Ranger for 10 years before being promoted to chief of the Texas Rangers in 2011.