Foster Kids' Rights Violated

Judge rules Texas' foster care system unconstitutional

The Texas foster care system violates the U.S. constitution: That's the stern ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Janis Jack on Dec. 17, before she ordered that a special master will be appointed to recommend sweeping reforms to the broken system.

The ruling is in response to a class-action suit filed in 2011 by New York-based children's advocacy group Children's Rights Inc., on behalf of 12,000 of the 30,000 kids currently in the state's substitute care system. The suit alleged that the state has too few caseworkers dealing with too many cases; as a result, children can be left in supposedly temporary and often substandard or dangerous homes for up to 18 months, rather than being returned to their family or settled in a new home. Jack ruled for the plaintiffs, finding that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' failure to protect their well-being while in care was a clear violation of their 14th Amendment rights.

But that was just one part of Jack's excoriating decision. She also savaged the state for failing to reduce caseworker turnover, which she wrote "poses a substantial risk of serious harm to foster children" as their files are passed endlessly between desks.

The next step is for Jack to appoint a special master with experience in a relevant field within 30 days. The special master will then have 180 days to develop a plan of reforms – not to make the system perfect, just constitutional – and then oversee its implementation. Jack sent a clear message to the state that she will not accept excuses for leaving the system broken: "The burden on the plaintiffs from continued unconstitutional harm far outweighs any administrative hardship Texas will face in correcting its foster care system."

This is just the latest in a long line of massive revelations of how poorly the state treats children, including the 2007 sexual abuse scandal at the Texas Youth Commission, and ongoing lawsuits over school finance. This most recent ruling was applauded by lawyers for the plaintiffs, with co-counsel Paul Yetter calling it "a wake-up call to the state that it cannot continue to violate the rights of children."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

foster care, Janis Jack, Children's Rights, Inc.

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