Class action lawsuit targets the Texas child welfare system



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Posted on March 29, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 30 at 9:31 AM

The state's Department of Family and Protective Services is facing a federal class action lawsuit.  The DFPS is accused of mishandling cases and endangering kids.

The Hutto woman you're about to read about had two children placed in her care by the state.  Then a few weeks ago, the state took them away.  She hopes this lawsuit is a wake up call for a system she says is failing miserably.

Evelyn Jones can't stop talking about the two children placed in her care by the Texas Department of Family and Protective services two years ago,  when she was in a relationship with their mother.

"I got involved in the daughter's life when she was five-months-old," said Jones.  "The younger boy, I cut his umbilical cord the day he was born. I selected his name.  Those are my children, and this is the home."
But back in February, the DFPS returned the daughter, now seven-years-old, to her biological father, despite his extensive felony criminal record.

"I was very shocked and very concerned," said Jones. "(Child Protective Services) said since the biological father had completed his services, they were required by law to reunite him with his daughter."

And even though the five-year-old boy was not his, the man also got custody of the boy, because DFPS did not want to break up the siblings.  That's why Jones is pleased to hear the national advocacy group Children's Rights has filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Texas child welfare system.

"I think it sends a clear message that some changes need to be made to the system," said Jones.

Former family law attorney Charles Childress is not surprised by the lawsuit.

"They've been circling around Texas for a number of years," said Childress.

Childress spent seven years as the co-director of the Children's Rights Clinic at the University of Texas Law School.  He says Texas is not the worst, and it's certainly not the best when it comes to the child welfare system.

"Our statutory scheme is very good," said Childress.  "It's just the system is so stretched, it doesn't comply with our own statutes in a lot of ways,"

Childress says the lawsuit could benefit Texas in the long run.

"I think there is a real possibility for some improvement," he said.  "Primarily, by getting a handle on what you are asking the frontline case workers to do."

A representative with DFPS said the agency did the best it could with Jones' case and turned it over to a judge.  They say where the children go is ultimately up to the court.

As far as the class action lawsuit is concerned, Childress says it's possible Children's Rights and the State of Texas could reach a compromise.  He says Children's Rights and the State of Georgia recently reached a consent agreement.