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'Areas of serious concern and some progress' in Texas foster care system: Court-appointed monitors release new report

A federal judge in Corpus Christi is set to reassess the state's compliance with more than a dozen court orders related to the foster care system on Wednesday.

AUSTIN, Texas — Court-appointed monitors filed a new 393-page report on Tuesday detailing "areas of serious concern and some progress" by the Department of Family and Protective Services and the Health and Human Services Commission regarding the foster care system in Texas. 

A team monitoring the foster care system examined "tens of thousands of documents and records" and found that from July 31, 2019 to April 10, 2021, 23 children have died in State custody. This includes six children "whose caregivers were determined to have abused or neglected them in connection with their deaths or their care prior to their deaths."

The report also said three Single Source Continuum Contractors, which are responsible for finding foster homes or other living arrangements for children in State care, housed children in unlicensed facilities. 

Monitors discovered in December 2020 that several operations that had been identified or should have been identified for "Heightened Monitoring" due to their history of abuse, safety and neglect violations, escaped enforcement by closing and reopening under a new name. According to the report, the State remedied the problem after monitors raised concerns.

In addition to reporting problems with the foster care system, monitors found that State agencies made some improvements, including implementing secondary screening process reforms, improving statewide intake call response times and improved caseloads for caseworkers.

“We are glad to see the areas in which the state is improving,” Marcia Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood and a co-counsel in the lawsuit, said in a press release on Tuesday. “However, we are very troubled that almost two years after the court’s remedial orders went into effect, children are being placed in unlicensed placements and being subjected to many dangerous, damaging conditions.”

This report comes as a result of a decade-long legal battle over the foster care system in Texas. In 2011, an advocacy group called Children's Rights filed a suit against the governor of Texas, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Department of Family Protective Services. The class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of children in long-term foster care. 

A federal judge in Corpus Christi is set to reassess the State's compliance with more than a dozen court orders related to that lawsuit during a hearing on Wednesday. In December 2020, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack found the State was in contempt of 13 remedial orders, following a June 2020 report from court-appointed monitors that concluded the State's "continued failures" in the foster care system were "systemic and enduring."

After the judge's findings of contempt in December, Gov. Greg Abbott wrote a letter to Executive Commissioner Cecile Young, Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Commissioner Jaime Masters and Department of Family and Protective Services asking them to ensure their agencies were complying with a federal judge's remedial orders that would protect children in the State's care.  

The monitors also recently reported that a whistleblower complaint raised questions "regarding the use of unlicensed facilities to house the state’s growing number of children without placements."

According to a press release from the monitors, a policy advisor from Abbott's office confirmed during a hearing on April 20, 2021 that they learned about the placement of children in unlicensed facilities in October 2020 and failed to notify the court-appointed monitors about the issue.

In a report filed last month, the monitors wrote: “Despite the Court enjoining the State ‘from placing children in permanent management conservatorship (“PMC”) in placements that create an unreasonable risk of serious harm,’ the State of Texas appears to have done so repeatedly, with serious, harmful consequences to the children in its care.”

The judge has ordered the following individuals to attend the hearing on Wednesday, according to a release from the monitors: the CEO of Our Community Our Kids, the CEO of Saint Francis Ministries, the COE of 2INgage and the CEO of Family Tapestry.

If you're interested in becoming a foster parent, KVUE features children in the foster care system each week in a segment called Forever Families. You can find out more about children in the foster care system here.

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