What Does the Final Ruling in the Federal Foster Care Lawsuit Mean for Children?

By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA

On Jan. 19, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack issued her final order in the long-running case against Texas’ Child Protective Services (CPS) system. The order, if enacted, would require the state to make nearly 100 changes to the system and the way it cares for children, but implementation was stayed by subsequent judicial action. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hold an initial hearing on this stay on Feb. 15.

This is the latest development in what has become an extensive case based on a lawsuit originally filed in 2011. In her December 2015 initial ruling, Judge Jack found Texas’ foster care system unconstitutional because it failed to protect children in long-term care from an unreasonable risk of harm.

Texas is not the first state to face a lawsuit of this kind – but what sets our situation apart is both sides’ struggle to find middle ground. The court is putting its foot down, standing by the changes mandated in the order. The state, on the other hand, has consistently opposed the lawsuit and appealed every step of the way, arguing that the ordered changes are expensive and unnecessary, and the legislature and the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) have made systemic change a priority and continue to dedicate time, attention and funding to needed reform.

For the time being, Judge Jack’s order will not be implemented, pending further consideration of the state’s appeal by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Regardless of the eventual outcome of this case, the ruling has put the spotlight on long-standing problems with our child protection system.

This heightened scrutiny and awareness around CPS, coupled with devastating headlines related to children in care, has caused state leadership and the legislature to take significant action. In December 2016, lawmakers approved a substantial pay raise and staffing increase for CPS caseworkers. Gov. Greg Abbott named child protection system reform his top emergency item for the 2017 Legislative Session, and lawmakers worked hard to address these issues, enacting a number of bills focused on improving the lives of children in the state’s care. The result of these actions and others has been substantial progress and tangible improvements to the system.

While steps are being taken to move our system forward, there is still much more to be done, and we are still facing potentially many more years of continued litigation before the case is finally resolved. In the meantime, the children who are in the system due to no fault of their own will continue to be caught in the middle. So what can we do right now?

Texas CASA’s vision is a safe, positive future for all Texas children, and we will continue to work towards achieving that vision now and in the future, regardless of the outcome of this case. We will continue speaking up for our vulnerable children at the Capitol, and empowering the local CASA programs across the state to do the same at the grassroots level within their communities. We will continue our collaborations with DFPS, foster care providers and child welfare groups to improve policies and make the system work better for these children.

In addition to championing bills throughout the 85th Legislative Session, Texas CASA has implemented its own approaches to ongoing child welfare challenges. For instance, our Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) initiative in partnership with DFPS, now in its third year, is promoting a family-centered approach to foster care statewide. CFE provides children and families with a supportive network during their time in care, and lays the groundwork for lifelong relationships that can facilitate better outcomes for children.

As we lead and innovate at the statewide level, the 71 local CASA programs across Texas continue to recruit and train dedicated members of the community to advocate for these children. Last year, a record number of 10,424 volunteers advocated for more than 29,700 children in the Texas foster care system. If you are not yet involved with CASA, there is no better time than right now to join our growing movement and help create brighter futures for these children today. There are three ways you can help fuel our cause:

  1. VolunteerReady to speak up for a child who needs you? Visit BecomeACASA.org to locate and contact your local CASA program, and take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer.
  2. Nominate. If you know someone who has what it takes to speak up for children, let them know by nominating them to become a CASA volunteer today.
  3. GiveA donation to Texas CASA is an investment in the power of the CASA community and the future of Texas’ children. Consider making a gift to Texas CASA today.

We will have to wait for the final decision in this case, but we will not wait to improve the system for the children who deserve better now. In the midst of these uncertain times, I hope you’ll join me in standing firm in the power of the CASA community.

Vicki signature

Read Judge Jack’s Jan. 19 final order in the Texas foster care lawsuit.

If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit BecomeACASA.org to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.