Children’s Rights Sues Texas Over Foster Care

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Nonprofit litigator Children’s Rights has sued the state of Texas, accusing its child welfare system of failing to transition foster children back home or to other permanent situations in a timely manner.

The lawsuit, M.D. v Perry, filed earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, specifically deals with the approximately 12,000 children who are in the Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). These are the children for whom DFPS has not found a permanent placement – reunification with family or adoption being the main avenues – within a year of their removal.

M.D. is a 14-year-old girl from Corpus Christi who, Children’s Rights alleges, has been moved multiple times, denied mental health evaluations and medical services, and overmedicated with psychotropic drugs.

Once children enter PMC, Children’s Rights said in its complaint, “DFPS makes little effort to find them permanent homes.”

About 6,400 of the PMC children have been in the system for three years or more, and 500 have been in PMC for more than 10 years. More than 1,300 aged out of PMC in 2008, according to the rights group.

“Once children cross the line into permanent foster care, the state essentially gives up on their prospects for ever leaving state custody with permanent families of their own,” said Children’s Rights Executive Director Marcia Robinson Lowry.

Texas is the 17th child welfare system to have a class-action lawsuit filed against it by Lowry of Children’s Rights, who started with New Mexico in 1980. At the time, she was working with the American Civil Liberties Union.

DFPS has been anticipating the lawsuit since Children’s Rights started requesting records in 2009, and, in fall 2010 sent an unsigned memorandum to state legislators about the potential for legal action.

From the DFPS memorandum: “Reform is working in Texas. … Texans know what’s best for Texas. We don’t need a litigious organization from New York City to tell us how to improve our CPS system. And we don’t need its lawyers living off exorbitant fees paid for by the hard-working taxpayers of Texas.”

DFPS Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein told The Houston Chronicle that she feared a lawsuit would interfere with a restructuring of foster care that is already under way.

“We're on the right path and will continue to do everything we can to protect Texas children,” she said, “but I worry that a lawsuit like this will take critical time and resources away from the very children it presumes to help.”