Texas fined $100,000 per day for failing to act on foster care abuse allegations

Apr 16, 2024, 8:40 AM

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — A federal judge is fining Texas $100,000 per day for routinely neglecting to adequately investigate allegations of abuse and neglect raised by children in the state’s struggling foster care system.

U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack in Corpus Christi ruled Monday that the Texas Health and Human Services agency has shown contempt of her orders to fix the way the state investigates complaints by children in its care.

This is the third such contempt finding in a case that began with a 2011 lawsuit over foster care conditions at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the child welfare arm of HHS.

In a 427-page ruling, the judge cited a “continued recalcitrance” by the agency’s Provider Investigations unit to conduct thorough, accurate and timely probes of allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

“As demonstrated by the stories of the children and PI’s failure to take any action to remedy the egregious flaws identified by the Monitors, PI represents a significant, systemic failure that increases the risk of serious harm,” the judge wrote.

Texas has about 9,000 children in permanent state custody for factors that include the loss of caregivers, abuse at home or health needs that parents alone can’t meet.

“The judge’s ruling is measured but urgent, given the shocking evidence,” said attorney Paul Yetter, representing the foster children in the lawsuit. “Innocent children are suffering every day. After all these years, when will state leadership get serious about fixing this disaster?”

Officials at the DFPS declined comment. A spokesperson at HHS said the agency, led by Commissioner Cecile E. Young, was reviewing the order.

Lawyers for the state have previously said that while there is always room for improvement, state officials have sufficiently complied with the court’s remedial orders.

The state has also argued that the court monitors haven’t reviewed a large enough sample size of children to make sweeping conclusions.

The fines levied against Texas will be lifted when the state can demonstrate that its investigations are in compliance. A hearing is set for late June.

Since 2019, court-appointed monitors have released periodic reports on DFPS progress toward eliminating threats to the foster children’s safety.

A January report cited progress in staff training, but continued weaknesses in responding to investigations into abuse and neglect allegations, including those made by children. Monitors also said children aren’t told how to report sexual abuse and the state hasn’t proved that it has properly trained its caseworkers to identify potential victims.

In one case, plaintiffs say, a girl was left in the same residential facility for a year while 12 separate investigations piled up around allegations that she had been raped by a worker there. The girl remained exposed to that worker until she was “dumped in an emergency room, alone, with her jaw broken in two places,” the judge said. The facility was eventually shut down by the state.

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Texas fined $100,000 per day for failing to act on foster care abuse allegations