The State of Texas has filed objections to the special masters’ report in the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of children in the care of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
The 37-page legal document objects to, among other things, that “the Court’s underlying findings of class-wide constitutional violations are unsupported by reliable expert testimony or other competent, admissible evidence.”
The State also objects on the ground that the findings of constitutional violations in the Court’s December 17, 2015 Order “are too vague to permit the remedies proposed in the Recommendations to be precisely tailored to cure those purported constitutional violations.”
Lawyers representing the state, the Office of the Attorney General, also urge that the recommendations by the masters do not meet the standards articulated in the Judge’s memorandum opinion, and are overbroad because they are not narrowly tailored to redress violations; instead, the masters seek to implement what they deem are “best practices, for which there is no constitutional duty.”
As reported by Breitbart Texas, two masters appointed by the federal judge in the lawsuit against the state agency issued their recommendations in a formal report and filed it on November 7.
Children’s Rights, an advocacy group based in New York, filed a class action lawsuit against the Lone Star State in March 2011 on behalf of approximately 12,000 children. The advocacy group has filed 19 lawsuits and been successful in 15. Among other complaints, they urge that “Far too many children” in the Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) of the department are “subjected to immeasurable and permanent harm” and “deprived of the opportunity for a safe childhood.”
In December 2015, Judge Janis Graham Jack ordered the State of Texas to enact reforms. As reported by the Dallas Morning News, the judge noted that the department was underfunded and called the long-term foster care system “broken.” She also noted the frequency of sexual and other abuse, as well as the use of psychotropic medications.
The judge appointed two special masters in the spring of 2016 and Kevin Ryan and Francis McGovern released their list of recommendations on November 7.
Among many other recommendations in the 13-page report, the masters called for cutting the loads of caseworkers by 50 percent which would require hiring more caseworkers. According to The Dallas Morning News, caseworkers are now assigned about 30 cases each. The masters reported that manageable caseloads is tied to worker satisfaction and improved turnover rates. Their paperwork and the electronic filing system also “must become more efficient,” the masters said. Caseworkers should be able to spend more than 26 percent of their time with foster children and this can be accomplished in-person or via available technology like Skype or Facetime. They should also conduct PMC visits at least monthly and DFPS should make a report to the Court every six months.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed a former chief of the Texas Rangers, Henry “Hank” Whitman, Jr., as the new Commissioner of the embattled agency in April of this year, as reported by Breitbart Texas.
The Department’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for fiscal years 2018-2019 includes a request for funding “above the FY 2018-19 baseline request for six exceptional items totaling $498.1 million general revenue ($534.0 million All Funds).” The LAR Administrator Statement provides, “New staffing requests total 1,823.4 FTEs in FY 2018 and 1,943.0 FTEs in FY 2019.”