Texas Held in Contempt on Child Welfare Reforms by Federal Judge

A U.S. District Court judge has found the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in contempt of an order for certain system reforms, and starting Friday will begin to fine the agency every day until the issue is resolved.

Janis Jack, the senior district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, found that DFPS had failed to ensure 24-hour supervision at group homes and other congregate care placement facilities around the state. She will begin fining the state $50,000 per day until court monitors confirmed that supervision is in place starting at the end of the week, and the fine will double to $100,000 per day on November 15.

The finding follows a motion filed in mid-October by Children’s Rights and A Better Childhood, two New York-based nonprofit litigation firms that in 2015 prevailed in a class-action lawsuit against DFPS.

“The ink on the Fifth Circuit’s mandate is barely dry, and defendants already have failed to timely comply with key remedial orders,” the motion said.

Judge Jack has been harsh in her words for DFPS since her initial findings, saying that the state’s foster care system is “broken” especially for the children in its Permanent Managing Conservatorship program, “who almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.” Since her ruling, the state has managed to successfully appeal some of the mandated reforms she ordered in the case.

Jack did not mince words in her contempt finding today.

“I can no longer find DFPS credible,” Jack said, referring to the Department of Family and Protective Services. “They’ve lied to me at almost every level [and] this is just shameful.”

Marc Rylander, spokesperson for the state’s attorney general office, said in a statement after the contempt finding that DFPS and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission are “working expeditiously to comply with the court’s order. Our children deserve reasonable provisions that make that care more safe and accessible, and we are dedicated to working with all parties toward that goal.”

To avoid the fines, the state must demonstrate that all group placements housing seven or more children have what’s called 24 hour-awake supervision. Confirmation of compliance will be determined by the appointed court monitors, Kevin Ryan and Deborah Fowler.


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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1131 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.