Texas foster care reforms: U.S. District Judge hears report on state children without placements in decade-long legal fight

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – More than a decade after the start of an ongoing lawsuit over the state’s troubled foster care system, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack was angry when she asked the state if it had a system to find out the whereabouts of foster children and the head of the agency said no.

When Jack asked Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner Jamie Masters for an update on the system, Masters said IT was still working on it.

“Oh, for god’s sake. I just don’t understand this incompetence… You don’t know where the kids are,” Jack said. “Now we know today, 11 years after this trial, that no one knows where these children are placed. I’m just – I’m speechless. You are the parent. I don’t want to hear that the IT is still working. So.”

Minutes later, Masters received an update indicating that IT would go live with the system in July.

The video above is from a previous report.

Today’s hearing is part of a decade-long lawsuit that was filed in federal court in 2011. Over the years, the court has found that the state has failed to protect children by foster family against “unreasonable risk of harm” and called on court-appointed monitors to investigate areas for improvement and ensure standards are met.

Last year, 13 investigators reported that a teenager in CWOP, or “child without a placement,” snuck out of an unlicensed facility and was shot while allegedly attempting a hijacking. car.

RELATED: 13 Investigations: Teenager Shot After Sneaking, Another ‘Hangover Sleep’ Under CPS Care

Last year there were 165 children without a placement in January and it peaked at 416 children housed in offices and hotels in July, according to a report filed in federal court on Monday.

Judith Meltzer, president of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, helped write the report and said there are concerns about the number of children in Texas being placed in hotels or offices.

She said other states may have 10 foster children considered CWOP – far fewer than Texas.

“I know Texas is a great state, but the magnitude of the problem here has given us pause as the experts on the panel,” she said. “Institutionalize it as an approach to manage this program by setting up these unlicensed facilities across the state… we found that very unusual and very surprising.”

Meltzer worked within a panel of experts who interviewed 30 key stakeholders including the DFPS, state monitors, lawyers for both sides and other experts to prepare a report for the hearing. today.

“There are roots to this problem that go back many years and (they call for) significant reform,” Meltzer said.

She said the children in care “must be recognized as children” and not as CWOP children who have created problems so that the state can help “begin to heal the trauma these children have gone through.”

As she prepared for today’s hearing, Jack said she was once again heartbroken by the details of the children without an placement who end up sleeping in the offices or hotels of the Protective Services of childhood due to the lack of safe housing.

“I had to read it and take breaks because it broke my heart that Texas was treating these kids like that,” Jack said at the hearing.

A report filed in court on Monday details how a 15-year-old, whom CPS placed in a hotel due to the shortage, had sex with a hotel employee. Court documents say an investigation found the teenager feared this could happen to other foster children and authorities believe she may be a victim of trafficking.

In other cases, Jack has been disappointed to hear that some foster children are placed in 15 or more different places in a short period of time.

Jack said there were some bright spots in the report, but she is still discouraged.

“Looks like we’re going from bad to worse,” said Jack. “This unconstitutional and dangerous treatment of children continues to affect all those deeply involved in this matter.”

The panel offered several recommendations that the state said it would work to address, including discussing how they can extend mental health services to children in state care.

“With strong leadership, strategic coordination among all stakeholders, and targeted injection and coordination of resources, Texas can address the issue of children in unlicensed care without creating new restrictive GROs and can put measures in place. that benefit the long-term well-being of children. term, ”the report says.

RELATED: ‘I’m Letting These Kids Down,’ Says Head of State’s Foster Care System

Judge Jack and the state also opposed the low vaccination rate for foster children.

Jack said 75.3% of children in foster care are not vaccinated, far below the state’s vaccination rate for children 17 and under.

The state argued that some children refused the vaccine. Jack pushed back on the question of how this was possible since the state acts as the parent of children. The state said it could not force any of the children to get into a car and get vaccinated.

After going back and forth on the topic and continuing to disagree on why the vaccination rate of foster children is low, Jack finally asked the independent consultant if they had a problem. idea of ​​what she has had to deal with since the start of the trial.

“It’s not good,” Jack said. “My orders haven’t changed, the state of mind is there.”

The hearing is still ongoing and we will update this report throughout the day.

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