Judge in Foster Care Case Pushes Texas for Swift Improvements, Demands More Information

AUSTIN -- A federal judge on Monday prodded Texas to provide more information on its system of long-term foster care even as she asked the state to swiftly make improvements to protect children, such as installing landlines in each foster home that the youngsters can use to call a new hotline and make an outcry about further mistreatment.As expected, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi dismissed the state's objections to far-ranging recommendations made by her two court-appointed experts last fall.Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued the state is improving its care system for maltreated children who have been removed from their birth families, and doesn't need direction from a federal judge to do the right things.Jack, though, scoffed at that argument. "The state's long history of conducting and commissioning studies without any measurable improvement to the well-being of children in foster care belies their argument that they have plans in place to address the constitutional deficiencies found by the court," she wrote in an unexpected interim order. It may prolong the case and prevent Texas from appealing for many months.In the interim order, Jack said she needs a lot more information. She hinted she isn't close to laying down a detailed set of remedies. Paxton has been waiting for that and is expected to appeal it."Despite the tremendous accomplishments by the parties to date, the court is not prepared to enter a final order," Jack wrote. "The recommendations of the special masters are preliminary in nature and require additional information gathering, input, and supervision by the court."In the interim order, Jack sprayed the Department of Family and Protective Services and special masters Kevin Ryan and Francis McGovern with demands for about two dozen different studies, submissions of plans or actions.The first she mentioned, and several others supplemented, involves making sure that Child Protective Services has a plan for its conservatorship caseworkers or so-called "I See You" staff members at remote locations visit each foster child at least once a month. She pushed for use of technology such as videoconferencing or Face Time to assure each child speaks with his or her original CPS worker at least monthly.Jack requested studies of the workloads and turnover of CPS conservatorship workers (due in six months); the caseloads of I See You workers (nine months); and workloads of the Residential Child Care Licensing division's investigators and inspectors (eight months).She also demanded reports and plans on how the state intends to create more foster care capacity, assign to each child in long-term care an attorney ad litem and create a new central database and record of past health care treatments for each child .In December 2015, Jack entered a memorandum opinion and verdict in the long-running class-action suit in which she said Texas' system for caring for about 12,000 children who've been in its legal custody for at least a year to 18 months is "broken." Children routinely exit the system in worse shape than they were when they entered, she wrote.Since then, Paxton twice has tried unsuccessfully to persuade the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay Jack's orders and stop her appointment of the special masters -- Ryan, a former New Jersey child welfare official and McGovern, a Duke law professor who is an expert on mediation and class-action lawsuits.  Continue reading...

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