Court monitors, after years of litigation against the state and the Department of Family and Protective Affairs, released a fifth report Friday night, tracking where the agency has made progress and where it hasn’t.
A pending update from federal watchdogs showed an improvement in the number of children assigned to social workers and the accuracy of DFPS investigations. However, he also found several DFPS investigations in which the state failed to protect children from security threats, including lack of drug control and exposing children to the risk of human trafficking.
The report comes ahead of a Jan. 27 hearing in a federal lawsuit that names Gov. Greg Abbott and the DFPS as defendants and accuses them of violating the constitutional rights of Texas children.
In 2015, U.S. District Judge Janice Graham Jack found that the state failed to protect children in the care of Child Protective Services from an unreasonable risk of harm. In a 2018 court order, the monitors were instructed to monitor the defendants’ compliance with several of the “corrective measures” outlined in the lawsuit.
Last June, Jack threatened to impose “significant fines” on Texas for not following its orders to fix its troubled foster care system.
In recent months, DFPS has experienced a rapid change in leadership and an exodus of thousands of employees. Former DFPS commissioner Jaime Masters was recently replaced after a tumultuous three years at the helm of the agency. In November, Abbott announced that he was appointing Stephanie Muth, a consultant and former director of Medicaid at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, to replace Master.
Two federal monitors appointed by Jack to oversee the agency released periodic reports on Texas’s progress in addressing child safety threats in the foster care system. The last four reports document the agency’s progress in addressing child safety threats, but more needs to be done by the state. Observers noted that in the more than two years since the first report, the agency has not complied with all court orders.
The agency closed an unaccommodated children’s shelter in Marble Falls in October after the nonprofit stopped providing a building to the DFPS in response to the alleged sexual abuse of two teenage girls who were living in the temporary shelter.
Monitors asked if the agency is “adequately protecting children from serious risk of harm” as it continues to place children in temporary unlicensed facilities. “Based on an observer review of the DFPS investigations into [children without placement] settings over the last 18 months, the answer is often negative,” the report says.
Response time on Statewide Intact, a hotline for reporting child abuse, neglect or exploitation, has increased by half a minute, with callers waiting an average of 5.2 minutes since the January 2022 report.
Monitors found a staffing contract that noted that the agency took “appropriate action” to protect children only 42% of the time the DFPS investigation suspected child abuse or abuse.
Preliminary State Budget Proposals from Legislative Leaders called for $4 billion for CPS work under the DFPS. This amount represents an increase of $196.3 million across all funds, including $350.7 million in total income, compared to the 2022-23 biennium.