What’s the Latest on the Decade-Old Federal Foster Care Lawsuit?

For several years now, Texas has struggled with finding sufficient licensed placements for children in foster care. The ongoing crisis has led to a decade-long federal lawsuit that found the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) failed to protect children in foster care from “an unreasonable risk of harm.” Overseeing the case is U.S. District Judge Janis Jack who appointed two court monitors in 2016 to oversee foster care providers and report on safety concerns raised in the case. Most recently, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), DFPS, and the plaintiffs agreed to meet and discuss new recommendations.

How Did We Get Here?

Following the court’s ruling in September, the State and plaintiffs agreed to seek nonbinding recommendations from three neutral experts to help alleviate the crisis of children without placement in Texas. Those recommendations were due to the court on Dec. 15, 2021, but were not made public until a court hearing on Jan. 11, 2022. The expert panel recommended 23 different strategies to help alleviate the challenge of children in unlicensed facilities, some meant to offer short-term relief and some to create long-term systemic changes to prevent this type of crisis from happening again. Many of the recommendations related to taking advantage of federal funding, improving mental health services and better supporting families to care for high-needs children in foster care.

The hearing on Jan. 11 focused on both the recommendations from the expert panelists and another report from the federal court monitors. When it came to discussing the monitors’ report, Judge Jack focused on aspects of the report that highlighted some tragic situations happening in out-of-state placements. At the end of the hearing, she ordered HHSC and DFPS to develop a plan to address each of the panel’s recommendations within 90 days.

A few days after the hearing, DFPS issued a Foster Care Litigation Status Report, which provided updates on their compliance with each of the Court’s remedial orders. The 55-page report goes into detail about the Department’s progress and provides an overview of all of the policy and practice improvements they have made since the Court’s initial ruling in 2015.

What’s the Latest Development in the Lawsuit?

On Feb. 11, 2022, DFPS and HHSC filed a joint response to each of the 23 expert panel recommendations. The agencies agreed to move forward with implementing the majority of the panel’s recommendations, including creating an interagency team to oversee plans to address the children without placement crisis. The agencies also identified which recommendations they cannot immediately address, but hope to when they receive the appropriate legislative authority or funding.

Texas CASA commends HHSC and DFPS in their efforts to comply with the court’s remedial orders and their willingness to implement the expert panel’s recommendations. Texas CASA will continue to monitor the federal lawsuit support providers, HHSC and DFPS in their efforts to improve the child welfare system in Texas.

If you have questions about the federal lawsuit or any other systemic child welfare issues, please reach out to the Texas CASA Public Policy Team at publicpolicy@texascasa.org.