Texas Fined $100K Daily Over Foster Child Abuse

Judges Gavel
Judges Gavel | Image by seng kui Lim/500px/Getty Images

The State of Texas must pay $100,000 in fines daily over its apparent failure to investigate reports of abuse and neglect of children in its foster care system, according to a judge’s ruling filed on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Janis Jack of Corpus Christi ruled that Texas must pay the recurring fines until it comes into compliance with court orders regarding timely investigations of allegations of abuse and neglect within the foster system.

The order stems from a 2011 class-action lawsuit that was brought against the Department of Family and Protective Services and Health and Human Services, alleging that children were held in unsafe conditions. The two agencies are responsible for the child welfare system in Texas.

“More than a decade has passed since Plaintiffs first brought to the Court’s attention the numerous deficiencies in the Texas foster care system that were violating the right of children in … the State of Texas to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm,” the 427-page ruling began.

Monday’s ruling marks the third time the State of Texas has been held in contempt of court since the lawsuit was filed more than a decade ago. Over the ensuing years, Jack has repeatedly criticized the state agencies for failing to comply with court orders.

In 2019, Judge Jack found the State was in contempt of court and mandated fines of $50,000 each day that foster care group homes went without 24-hour supervision.

In late 2020, the court again found that the State was in contempt for non-compliance with court-ordered remediation steps. Jack found that the “Defendants exposed … children to ongoing harm or risk of harm through the very system designed to protect them.”

In a further hearing in September 2021, Jack accused Texas leaders of failing to act on her orders to fix the foster care neglect, citing reports that at least 400 children were being abused and spending multiple nights each month in motels or office buildings,

A three-day hearing was held in December 2023 that detailed allegations of abuse against children in foster care homes, including those with intellectual disabilities. Jackie Juarez, who was 18 at the time of the December hearings, recounted stories of abuse from her time in the foster care system. The Dallas Express reported on some of the accusations.

Juarez alleged that a facility staff member would tell misbehaving youth that they were in the system because their parents didn’t want them.

She also told the court that at age 15, her case worker gave her an iPod for Christmas that could receive texts. Shortly thereafter, she said, a male staff member started texting her flirtatious messages several times a day. When she reported the incident, child welfare officials did not fire the staff member but instead took away Juarez’s iPod, she claimed, per KSTX.

According to a report read at the same hearing, an anonymous child alleged a dozen instances of neglect and sexual and physical abuse while staying at a foster care facility called C3 Christian Academy, including suffering a broken jaw and being tasered.

Teresa Evans, owner of C3 Christian Academy, admitted that administrators often did not report the abuse allegations to the State, per KERA news. The facility was closed in 2023 due to the ongoing reports of abuse.

Monday’s court document noted the history of drug abuse in the Texas foster care system, in which large amounts of psychotropic medications are being prescribed to foster children.

“Most psychotropic medications have not been studied extensively for efficacy and safety in children. The National Institutes of Mental Health notes that about 80 percent of psychotropic drugs are not approved for use in children or adolescents,” the ruling stated. “… Many medications prescribed to Texas foster children have been shown to have no or minimal efficacy.”

The ruling stated that children placed in Child Without Placement (CWOP) facilities suffer some of the worst abuses in the Texas foster care system.

Children end up in CWOP facilities when they are removed from their homes due to circumstances such as abuse or complex health needs that caregivers are unable to manage. The State is often unable to find private providers who will accept those children, and they wind up in unregulated and unlicensed homes.

Nearly 2,100 incidents of death, abuse, neglect, runaway, and suicide attempts were reported at Texas CWOP houses in 2023, the plaintiff’s attorney, Paul Yetter, told Texas Tribune.

Monday’s order also detailed the caseworkers’ high caseloads, which prevent them from providing adequate oversight.

“The judge’s ruling is measured but urgent, given the shocking evidence,” Yetter said in a written statement after the ruling was filed. “Innocent children are suffering every day. After all these years, when will state leadership get serious about fixing this disaster?”

A June 26 hearing has been set to revisit the case. In the meantime, the State of Texas has filed an appeal of the judge’s ruling.

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