U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack threatened contempt charges against the state’s child welfare agency for allegedly failing to comply with her orders.
Judge Jack has held state officials in contempt of court twice before, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle, and on Friday, began a hearing in Houston in a decade-long lawsuit against the state’s Child Protective Services (CPS) agency, which is operated by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
Shortly into the hearing, Judge Jack began reprimanding the state for alleged continued failure to ensure that children are safe and aware of their rights, ABC 13 reported.
“Someone’s not getting the urgency of this,” said Jack. “I know that you all say you understand the urgency, but this is just not happening.”
Only about half of the children in the state’s care are aware of the foster child bill of rights, the abuse hotline, and the ombudsman program, according to a survey cited in a recent court monitors’ report. The state has previously claimed that youth in its care know about all three resources.
CPS failed to properly protect children in 58% of the cases where agents suspected maltreatment or abuse, according to the claims in the report.
“I understand that these children have very complicated histories, they have great needs,” the judge told CPS leaders. “I just don’t want them going out of your care with even greater needs, which is what’s been happening.”
According to state data, there were 11,084 Texas children in foster care in December.
“Children without placement,” or CWOP, refers to children who are in the care of the state because they have suffered abuse but have yet to find placement with relatives, foster families, or a licensed facility because of a lack of space.
These children must spend the night in hotels or state offices.
“The average spell without placement lasted 15 nights, with the longest spell lasting 204 nights, an increase from the previous reporting period,” the court monitors’ report said.
Judge Jack questioned Stephanie Muth, who took over as commissioner of DFPS on January 2, about whether she can take the number of children without placement down to zero by June.
“I can commit that we will continue to put the same level of effort towards reducing those numbers,” Muth said.
Jack was reportedly not satisfied with Muth’s response and threatened to hold the state in contempt.
“I just don’t understand why we’re still here,” she said. “I find that having one child in this type of dangerous placement is unsafe and maybe a matter of contempt hearing in June.”
“I’m just giving you a warning, because there’s really no excuse for this,” she continued. “My sympathies go out not just to the children that are damaged (by being) children without placement but the caseworkers that are placed in this untenable (position).”
She added, “They don’t have the staff in these unlicensed placements, whether they’re (sleeping) in hotels or in the DFPS offices.”
Judge Jack also said she was disappointed with the response time for priority one calls to CPS’ statewide intake center.
On average, it takes 5.2 minutes — a minute and a half increase from this time last year — for workers to respond to calls from people reporting abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
Jack asked for the state to provide a list of all the children in permanent managing conservatorship who are pregnant and whether they became pregnant before or after entering the foster care system.
Whenever a minor in foster care becomes pregnant, the cases “double,” according to Jack, because the state must care for both the initial child and the newborn.
However, the state has reportedly made some improvements in finding placements for children.
“There’s some good things and there’s some things that need improvement,” Jack said, explaining that she was happy with stronger training and more manageable caseloads for caseworkers.
The Dallas Express contacted DFPS for comment and was told the agency cannot comment on ongoing litigation.