Citing longstanding and pervasive issues that have caused thousands of children in Texas foster care to spend their childhoods in poorly supervised institutions while repeatedly moving from one far-flung place to another, Children’s Rights joined the prominent Texas law firms Haynes and Boone, Yetter Coleman, and Canales & Simonson in filing a class action in federal court seeking widespread reform on behalf of approximately 12,000 abused and neglected children in long-term foster care statewide.
The lawsuit (PDF), known as M.D. v. Perry, charges Texas’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) with violating the constitutional rights of children who generally have been in foster care for at least a year by routinely failing either to return them safely to their families or to find them safe, appropriate, and permanent new families — and, therefore, failing to meet its legal obligation to ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of all children in its custody.
The current structure of Texas’s child welfare system gives caseworkers approximately one year, or a maximum of 18 months, either to successfully reunify children with their birth families or find them adoptive homes before they become permanent wards of the state, a status known as “permanent managing conservatorship” (PMC). After entering this permanent foster care status, many children have little hope for stable, permanent families and instead are shuffled between a variety of foster and institutional placements that are poorly supervised by the state.
The state remains legally obligated to provide children in PMC with appropriate care and services and must continue to work to find permanent families for these children. The children’s complaint shows that DFPS does not fulfill this obligation to thousands of kids in PMC.
The lawsuit names 13 children as plaintiffs to represent a general class of all children in PMC and four discrete subclasses. They range in age from two to 17 and share a history of suffering in DFPS’s long-term foster care. Information about the named plaintiffs is available on the case’s fact sheet (PDF).
Pointing to evidence that DFPS and state officials have been aware of serious problems throughout the state-run child welfare system for many years without taking sufficient action to solve them, the child plaintiffs ask the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to enjoin the state from further violating their constitutional rights and order relief via broad reforms.