Federal judge slaps state with $50,000-a-day fine in foster child care case

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U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack this week said she is hitting the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services with a $50,000-a-day fine for not adhering to her orders that children in group-care settings be watched around the clock.

Jack said that for four years the state has obstructed her attempts to safeguard the 11,000 abused and neglected children in long-term foster care, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“I can no longer find DFPS credible,” Jack said. “They’ve lied to me at almost every level [and] this is just shameful.”

The fines begin Friday and would double on Nov. 15, she said.

The ruling stems from the long-running class-action suit on foster-child care in Texas filed by the New York-based Children’s Rights group in 2011 that names as defendants Gov. Greg Abbott, DFPS Commissioner Trevor Woodruff and Human Services Commission head Courtney Phillips.

The state wants to hire consultant John Fluke from the University of Colorado at Denver to perform studies on workloads for its caseworkers. Fluke previously testified in a similar lawsuit on foster-child care in Rhode Island that he believes there is no correlation between caps on those caseloads and better outcomes for children, the newspaper reported. 

Jack and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled the opposite – that overworked caseworkers result in poorer treatment of those children.

“I was stunned that you would put someone in charge of the workload program who didn’t believe in their efficacy,” Jack said of Fluke. 

During Tuesday’s hearing, plaintiffs testified that DFPS missed a deadline to create a checkbox in its computerized case records to show if a foster child has been sexually abused, accusing the department of “dragging [its] feet.”

Lawyers for the state said DFPS is working on that system, but it won’t be ready until Dec. 19. Jack told them that by 5 p.m. Friday all caregivers must be notified about children who have been victims of past sexual abuse or have been confirmed as sexually aggressive, the Morning News reported.

“The whole thing is the safety of these children,” the judge said. “I don’t care about all the technical stuff.”

Jack has yet to rule on a request from plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking more than $21 million in fees and expenses they say they have accrued since 2009, when preparations for the lawsuit began. The state has already spent about $10 million fighting the case, the newspaper reported.

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