Texas Focused More on Fighting Lawsuit Than Fixing Foster Care, Child Welfare Advocates Say

AUSTIN — Major improvements to a foster care system that a federal judge has said fails Texas kids aren't likely to happen anytime soon, according to child advocates.The state is fighting the judge's orders, they would cost tens of millions more per year and the Legislature is focused on school finance and property tax issues.The class-action lawsuit, brought on behalf of about 12,000 children who are in the state's "permanent managing custody," was filed eight years ago.Far from cutting its losses, and savoring recent victories, including a significant trim to the judge's proposed remedies, the state recently signaled it plans yet another appeal. Even if it loses that, Texas could go to the Supreme Court.The legal stalemate frustrates some child-welfare activists, who admit their hopes soared after the state's GOP leaders in December 2016 granted $12,000 raises to front-line CPS workers and let the agency hire up to 829 new employees.But while initial probes into tips about possible child maltreatment are conducted far more quickly than three years ago — when The Dallas Morning News disclosed that tens of thousands of children weren't being checked on within legally prescribed time limits — the state still falters in shielding youngsters from abuse and neglect, advocates argue.Many complain that a backward-looking focus on the lawsuit obscures new funding and regulatory challenges.The state Department of Family and Protective Services and its contractors need to be preparing rapidly to comply with a new federal law, said Kate Murphy, senior child welfare policy associate at the advocacy group Texans Care for Children.Beginning in October 2021, the Family First Prevention Services Act, which Texas U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady pushed and President Trump signed last February, will end federal reimbursement for much — if not virtually all — of the group foster care that Texas currently purchases, such as in residential treatment centers."It's disappointing to see the progress not kept up in the same way that we'd like," she said. "There's still really significant room for improvement."Mike Foster of San Marcos, who began working in child welfare in 1971, said when the lawsuit was filed by New York-based Children's Rights in 2011, idealistic foster-care providers in Texas dreamed it could be a long-awaited catalyst for improvement."You just keep waiting and waiting and hoping and praying for transformational change, and it's so slow in coming," said Foster, now a consultant and a trainer. "It was a good thing to get line staff the raises. But I haven't seen a lot change since this suit was filed."  Continue reading...

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