News » San Antonio News

Federal Judge Determines Texas' Foster Care System Remains "Broken"


  • Shutterstock, Sarah Flood-Baumann

A U.S. District Judge ruled on Friday that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ "broken system" will continue to require additional federal supervision, after the state has continually "failed to protect foster children" from "unreasonable risk of harm."

"In its December 2015 Order, the Court found Texas’s foster care system was broken. Over two-years later, the system remains broken and DFPS has demonstrated an unwillingness to take tangible steps to fix the broken system," U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack concluded in her 116-page opinion.

In her ruling, Jack determined the state's foster care system will continue to be overseen by a pair of court-appointed children's rights experts, known as "Special Masters," for at least three years. Jack first appointed Special Masters to oversee DFPS back in April 2016.

Jack's latest ruling echoes the initial ruling against DFPS she issued back in 2015, when she first determined DFPS required federal oversight because it was failing to protect children from "unreasonable risk of harm."

During the most recent legislative session, lawmakers passed numerous bills to improve the foster care system, including upping the state budget for DFPS to $4 billion from the $3.5 billion it was granted the previous session. Jack called the steps taken by the Legislature and Governor Greg Abbott "indeed admirable."

But ultimately, Jack concluded the state's efforts still fall short.

Citing a "disconnect between the written policies of DFPS and its actual practices,” the state’s "unwillingness to assist the Court in developing a remedy," and its failure to "rectify long-standing problems with its foster care system despite decades of awareness and extensive reports and recommendations," Jack’s ruling has once again determined that children in Texas’ foster care system are not free from an unreasonable risk of harm.

Additionally, Jack lists numerous steps DFPS must implement immediately, among them:
  • Ensuring caseworkers and foster children meet face-to-face at least once a month, including time separate from the caregiver and other children.
  • Updating children's case records with photographs not more than a year old.
  • Ensuring DFPS maintains a statewide, 24-hour hotline for children in DFPS custody to report abuse and neglect.
  • Ensuring that all reported allegations of child abuse and neglect are investigated in a timely manner.
  • Ensuring that all DFPS caseworkers and caregivers are trained to recognize and report sexual abuse, including child on child sexual abuse, and that investigations of abuse are conducted by staff exclusively focused on maltreatment.
  • Ensuring that all calls regarding abuse and neglect to the 24-hour-hotline and followed up with a caseworker visit within 48 hours.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has opposed federal intervention from the beginning and has called the Special Master’s recommendations "vague" and a waste of taxpayer money, filed an appeal opposing Jack's ruling today.

In a statement, Paxton said the Special Masters' plan was "incomplete and impractical," and that it "fails to improve the realistic operations of the foster care system, and it causes actual harm to current families."

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.