CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) - Texas neglects kids in its understaffed foster care system where "rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm" and a court-appointed official will implement reforms, a federal judge ruled.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services "has ignored 20 years of reports, outlining problems and recommending solutions" for its "broken" foster care system, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack wrote Thursday in a scathing 260-page ruling.
Jack's order documents the experiences of the nine children who brought a class action in March 2011 on behalf of the thousands of kids in the state's long-term foster care or "Permanent Managing Conservatorship" as they were shuffled from one group home to the next.
After 12 to 18 months, if the state 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.
The class claims Texas lets kids "languish" in the long-term foster care system although many are eligible for adoption until they "age out" of the system at age 18, at which time they lack rudimentary survival skills.
The case went to trial in December 2014, during which Sandra Carpenter, who runs a nonprofit near Houston that helps kids who age out of foster care, testified that the kids don't know how to answer a phone, cook a meal, fill out a job application, or drive to work, according to the ruling.
Jack certified a general class and three subclasses in August 2013 that alleged violations of due process rights under the 14th Amendment to adequate care and a safe, secure, and suitable placement while in state custody.
The ruling spares no detail from the nine plaintiffs' journeys through the foster-care system.
"These children have for too long been forgotten. Their stories deserve to be told," Jack wrote.
M.D. represents the general class, all kids who are now, or will be, in the state's long-term custody and the licensed foster care subclass, kids who were placed in Texas-licensed foster homes.
When the case went to trial M.D. was 17, still in the state's custody, but presumed to be living on the street in Houston, 200 miles from Corpus Christi, her hometown, according to the ruling.
Through the years, M.D. changed foster homes 19 times, was put on 19 different psychotropic drugs, placed into psych hospitals 11 times and admitted to two emergency rooms because she had suicidal thoughts and was cutting herself.
Her stability was undermined by a revolving door of 16 different caseworkers during her time in state custody, from which she aged out.
Jack noted that many kids in Texas' custody don't have an attorney ad litem to plead their cases before a court, or a court-appointed special advocate to look out for them, leaving them at the mercy of overworked case managers.
Given the prevalence of sexual assault among kids in the state's foster homes, Jack found it "shocking" that Texas doesn't track "child-on-child" abuse, she wrote.
The agency keeps the data in child's case records, which are often tens of thousands of pages long and unorganized, Jack, a Clinton appointee, added.
"It is clear to the court that a main reason DFPS has not improved in the face of decades' of reports outlining deficiencies and recommending solutions is that there is no institutional memory," the order states.
That's partly due to the high turnover at the top of the agency and among its caseworkers, Jack found.
She agreed that Texas is violating the 14th Amendment rights of its foster kids and issued an injunction, ordering the state to track child-on-child abuse and stop placing kids in homes without 24-hour supervision.
She decided to appoint a "special master," a child care expert who will be selected by the parties, to oversee the agency and guide it in implementing numerous court-ordered reforms.
If the order survives Texas' likely appeal, the state's price tag for the reforms could be costly.
Andrew Stephens, one of the state's attorneys, did not respond to a comment request.
A Department of Family and Protective Services employee told the Texas Tribune the agency was "obviously disappointed with the ruling, because great progress has been achieved improving the Texas foster care system."
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