Foster Children’s Lawyers Hit Texas Leaders as Two-faced on Need for Improvements

AUSTIN -- Texas' top elected leaders and social services program administrators are two-faced about the state's troubled foster-care system, plaintiffs' lawyers in a long-running class action lawsuit said late Thursday.State lawyers defending Gov. Greg Abbott, social services czar Charles Smith and protective services chief Henry "Hank" Whitman say one thing in legal filings and another in public appearances and statements, the plaintiffs' lawyers said in a reply brief in federal court in Corpus Christi."It's striking that the state tells the public one thing, admitting how bad the situation is, but then denies everything in court," Houston lawyer Paul Yetter, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said in a written statement. "They should focus on remedies, not excuses."Late last month, lawyers in Attorney General Ken Paxton's office objected to every one of the recommendations of court-appointed special masters as vague, unworkable, very expensive and not necessarily effective.State lawyers insisted that while sometimes undesirable things happen to about 12,000 children in long-term foster care, the plaintiffs failed to show the system routinely subjects youngsters to unconstitutional hazards. At trial two years ago, state lawyers unsuccessfully made the same argument.In Thursday's brief, though, plaintiffs' lawyers laid out a series of public admissions by GOP state leaders that there's a serious problem.In October, they noted, Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus said in a joint letter that "it is unacceptable that children are sleeping in Child Protective Services offices" because the system lacks capacity to care for all children close to their home communities.Late last month, the plaintiffs' lawyers said, a CPS spokeswoman in East Texas told the Longview News-Journal that the state ships children removed from abusive birth families in the area to remote foster homes and institutions "every day, because we just don't have the foster care placements in their own counties."Last spring, Abbott said he had "insisted on overhauling a broken system," the children's lawyers noted.In their recent brief, state lawyers said that Texas is not impermissibly short on CPS "conservatorship" or foster care caseworkers.But plaintiffs' lawyers peppered their reply brief with instances over the past three months in which Whitman has written or testified that his conservatorship workers are overburdened.CPS needs at least 100 more, he has said.Last week, the offices of Abbott, Patrick and Straus signed off on an emergency funding request that allow CPS to hire 105 of the workers, along with 445 other types of caseworkers and special investigators.Plaintiffs, who filed no objections to recommendations by special masters Kevin Ryan and Francis McGovern, said the state should be helping fine-tune them so children's lives improve.Instead, "they have responded with blanket denials, legalese, and miscast legal arguments," wrote the plaintiffs' lawyers.They include Yetter, who served as a pro bono lawyer lead attorney in a December 2014 trial of the case; Dallas private-practice lawyer Barry McNeil, who is with Haynes & Boone; and lawyers with two New York-based groups, Children's Rights and A Better Childhood.They filed the suit in 2011. U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack has ruled that too often, children emerge from Texas' foster-care system worse off than when they entered it.Foster children's lawyers hit Texas leaders as two-faced on need for improvementsShe is expected to hold a hearing on Ryan and McGovern's proposals before issuing a final order. Paxton is expected to appeal the final order.  Continue reading...

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