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Group sues Texas after documenting foster-care nightmares




By Michael Barajas

Child advocacy group Children’s Rights has filed a civil rights suit against the state, claiming Texas has consigned thousands of children to a long-term foster care system rife with neglect and abuse.

The class-action suit filed in a Corpus Christi federal court Tuesday morning charges, among other things, that children in long-term foster care with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are forced to stay in state custody for years while a resource-strapped system struggles to place, monitor and care for them. Thousands of children, the group argues, are uprooted from their communities and shuffled around to numerous placements where they often face abuse.

Children’s Rights, in conjunction with Texas law firms Haynes and Boone, Yetter Coleman, and Canales & Simonson, also argues that DFPS and the state have violated children’s constitutional rights by keeping them in foster care for over a year without finding them adoptive homes.

DFPS caseworkers have up to 18 months to return children to their families or to find them permanent homes before they’re placed in Permanent Managing Conservatorship, or long-term state foster care.

In 2009, over 6,000 children had been in foster care in Texas for more than three years. As of May 2010, about 500 children had been in state custody for more than 10 years.

Texas isn’t the first state Children’s Rights has sued hoping reform the child welfare system, and the group has roughly a dozen active and ongoing cases around the country.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday morning provides a startling look into the hardship many Texas children face after being thrown into foster care. The lawsuit itself tells the accounts of nine plaintiffs, children from across the state each with their own horrific stories from inside the system – the children were not identified in the suit, and are only named by their initials.

M.D., a 14-year-old girl from Corpus Christi, was taken into state custody when she was eight. DFPS initially placed her with relatives, but she was returned to state care after a cousin sexually abused her.

Lawyers claim the state failed to give her adequate mental health evaluations and treatment following the abuse and neglect that landed her in long-term state care. And after being moved around the state numerous times, she landed in Denton, where she was raped after wandering away from a treatment center.

The girl would later serve a stint in a juvenile detention center as punishment for wandering away.

After the rape, DFPS gave the girl no special counseling, and M.D. became suicidal and began cutting herself, the lawsuit states. The girl is now “steadily deteriorating both emotionally and psychologically,” partly due to the lack of steady care, and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, the suit states.

One 9-year-old Houston boy, named D.I. in the lawsuit, was taken into state custody after DFPS said his drug-addicted mother neglected and failed to even feed him. He was placed in a foster home with six teenagers where he faced repeated sexual abuse. Once notified of the abuse, DFPS eventually removed him but never closed the foster home, the suit charges.

One girl, A.M., stayed with a foster family that forced her to drink vinegar and run laps in the summer as punishment when she was just six years old. Now, having been in numerous foster care placements for seven years, the girl has been prescribed powerful psychotropic meds instead of behavioral therapy, the lawsuit states.

One of the most startling stories is the case of D.P., a 16-year-old girl from Lockhart who entered state custody when she was six and, in one four-year period, changed foster placements at least 28 times. In 2010, the girl was sent to live with an uncle who would later sexually abuse her.

When D.P. fled one of her previous foster homes to report the abuse, DFPS sent her to a juvenile detention center for running away, the lawsuit says.

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