Judge Eyes Receivership to Fix Texas' Troubled Foster Care System

Judge Eyes Receivership to Fix Texas' Troubled Foster Care SystemSource: Unsplash / Ben Wicks
Matt Mitchell
Published on December 05, 2023

In a drastic plea for government intervention, lawyers representing thousands of foster children in Texas are urging U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack to consider imposing a federal receivership over parts of the state's foster care system. This move, described as "drastic but necessary" by the plaintiffs' attorneys, would see a court appointee take over the running of the agency—typically a strategy used to rescue faltering companies.

The litigation against several state agencies commenced back in 2011 when a national advocacy group accused them of trampling on the constitutional rights of foster children by exposing them to unreasonable risk of harm. Now, nearly a dozen years later, the plaintiffs argue that the longstanding inadequacies in Texas' foster care continue to subject children to severe neglect and abuse. As stated in a KXAN report, Texas children in long-term foster care "have been unsafe for decades" and the state's "persistent noncompliance means that PMC [Permanent Managing Conservatorship] children continue to face risks of otherwise avoidable neglect, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and even death."

On the defensive, state attorneys have shot back at the proposal, calling it an "inappropriate and unwarranted" intervention into state affairs. They insist that Texas has largely adhered to the court's demands, or at least has sincerely attempted to do so. But with two contempt of court findings against the state already on record and a welter of damning evidence compiled by federally appointed monitors—including reports of children sleeping in unlicensed facilities like state offices—this argument may fall on deaf ears.

Advocates of the receivership move point to similar successful interventions elsewhere, such as the federal takeover of California's prison medical system in 2006 and the District of Columbia's beleaguered child welfare system in the 1990s. According to a Texas Public Radio (TPR) article, such steps "will ensure this constitutionally required protection." Meanwhile, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher lawyers, now spearheading the defense, argue that the proposal to supplant state officials with a federal appointee “raises profound federalism concerns.”

The evidence laid bare by ongoing court monitoring points to troubling trends, such as foster children placed in residences with inadequate supervision, cohabitation of sex abuse victims with aggressors, and failure to follow state policy concerning psychotropic medication administration. Beyond these, the sharp uptick in the warehousing of children in unregistered facilities due to a shortage of suitable placements has only compounded the crisis. High caseworker turnover, reports of children suffering abuse or worse while under state care, and the absence of essential support services for these vulnerable youths are highlighted as core issues by the court monitors' findings.

As the legal battle rages on, Texas has already shelled out upward of $46 million to court monitors, with the latest courtroom confrontation expected to take place this December. Judge Jack's decision could determine whether Texas follows in the footsteps of D.C.'s historical receivership as the state grapples with a foster care system at the brink of collapse.