Recently, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack gave Texas two years to make substantive changes to the foster care system. This ruling comes after Judge Jack’s 2016 ruling that the Texas foster care system failed to protect the children in its care from “unreasonable risk of harm”. Judge Jack ordered a 3 year federal oversight of the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) in the form of Special Masters, or court-appointed children’s rights experts. Following the original ruling, Texas legislators made a series of changes to the system, including providing $150 million in emergency funding to hire more caseworkers and give a pay raise to help mitigate high turnover rates among caseworkers.
Judge Jack’s recent decision charges that the state is still failing to protect Texas children, citing three specific areas: recordkeeping, the number of caseworker visits, and the placement of children in safer homes. The ruling orders the State to make a multitude of immediate changes and report its progress to the federal court.
As part of these changes, DFPS must see top-priority children within 24 hours of their intake, log instances in which children sleep in CPS offices overnight, and ensure caseworkers and foster children meet in person each month. The department must also provide access to a 24 hour hotline for children within DFPS care to report abuse and neglect, and it must send a caseworker to visit the reported residence within 48 hours of the call. DFPS must also set a limit for caseworkers to take on 14-17 cases at a time.
Through this ruling, the court has created a roadmap for the state to take to ensure the well-being of children in its care, without the influence of politics. Time has passed to prioritize the full implementation of these changes, and to close the gap between written policy and actual practice. The state, Legislature, and DFPS are responsible for ensuring the children in our care are safe and healthy. Judge Jack's ruling will push us further in that direction and encourage us to keep working towards the ideal of providing every child with a happy and secure life. These kids have been failed before, and they cannot wait. The state has appealed the ruling, but we should not wait for a final court decision to implement these common-sense reforms.