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Federal Judge Appoints Special Masters to Reform Texas Foster Care as 5th U.S. Circuit Denies State’s Request For a Stay

Appointment Marks ‘A Tremendous Day for Thousands of Children’ in State Care

(Corpus Christi, TX) – Today Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack appointed child welfare veteran Kevin Ryan and nationally known court-appointed master Francis McGovern as joint Special Masters, charged with overseeing reform of Texas’ foster care system. Ryan and McGovern were sworn in this afternoon and are slated to begin work on April 1, 2016.

The announcement came shortly after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state’s request to stay the district court’s December 2015 decision, ruling that “the prohibition on unsafe placements is the only portion of the order currently appealable.” The Court of Appeals also found “evidence supporting the grave problems arising from the lack of 24-hour supervision in foster group homes. As to that claim only, we find that the State has not made a showing of a likelihood of success in overturning the injunction.”

“This is a tremendous day for thousands of children in Texas state foster care,” said Paul Yetter of Houston law firm Yetter Coleman LLP, and lead attorney on the case M.D. v. Perry. “After years of unsuccessful attempts to address the failings of an undeniably broken system, meaningful reform can finally take root. We look forward to collaborating with this all-star panel of Special Masters and the state to make things right for our kids.”

Kevin Ryan has been appointed in several jurisdictions to assist the federal court in its supervision and oversight of child welfare reform consent decrees and settlement agreements. He has extensive knowledge and firsthand experience in relation to the organization, management, operation and transformation of public child welfare agencies to comply with court orders. Francis McGovern has served as a court-appointed Special Master, Mediator and Neutral in 80 to 100 proceedings across the country. He is President of the Academy of Court-Appointed Masters and on its Board of Directors. He is also a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the American Arbitration Association.

Children’s Rights and Texas co-counsel Haynes and Boone, LLP and Yetter Coleman LLP brought M.D. v. Perry in 2011 on behalf of 12,000 children in permanent foster care, or permanent managing conservatorship (PMC). Following a two-week trial in December 2014, Judge Jack ruled on December 17, 2015 in favor of plaintiff children, noting the state put kids at risk because of high caseloads, dangerous foster group homes, inadequate investigations into abuse and neglect reports and a lack of placement options.