“As Texans, we are not always the people we want to be.
Some problems are so intractable and so heartbreaking that it’s easier to look away. Some miseries are so removed from our daily lives that it feels sufficient to mean well and hope for the best.
It takes an extraordinary person to hold up a mirror that shows us the stark reality of our indifference. And it takes a powerful voice to make it clear that our state has countenanced unspeakable suffering for far too long.
This year, federal District Judge Janis Graham Jack, our 2016 Texan of the Year, held that mirror steady. She punctured our comfortable obliviousness to the appalling treatment that 12,000 children in permanent managing conservatorship — foster kids — are enduring while in the care of the state of Texas.
In doing so, Jack focused statewide attention not only on the plight of foster children, but on all the vulnerable kids, nearly 30,000 of them, whose welfare is overseen by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the state agency that oversees Child Protective Services.
These are our kids, Jack told us in uncompromising terms. And we have failed them.
“Texas’ foster-care system is broken,” wrote Jack in the landmark ruling. “Most importantly, it is broken for children, who almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.”
Some Texas politicians and activists have tried several times to change the foster-care system, without success. The difference this time is that a federal judge is leading the charge. For her hard work to change entrenched problems, and for igniting a fire that has gained momentum all year, Judge Janis Jack is the 2016 Texan of the Year [by the Dallas Morning
The state (publicly, at least) took notice. Gov. Greg Abbott in May appointed a new DFPS director, who in turn ordered a major overhaul of Child Protective Services’ top management. By October, CPS laid out a plan for more workers and higher salaries. Lawmakers have pledged to make funding, reform and renewed oversight a top priority in the 85th Legislature, which opens next month.
In the courtroom, though, the state has fought Jack’s orders every step of the way. They argue that she has overstepped her authority in ordering reforms, appointing special masters to review the foster-care system, and establishing caseworker loads and staffing norms. Recently, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed appeals to even the most minor changes proposed by Jack’s team of special masters.
So far, appellate courts have sided with the judge. A They include an 8-year-old boy who was raped by older teens soon after his arrival in a group home.
One of the horror stories involved an 8-year old boy
“[T]he department did everything it could to cover up that [the boy] was sexually abused,” the judge wrote, noting that psychological evaluations conducted while the boy was in state care indicated he was severely depressed and had suicidal thoughts.”
The state has fought the judge on every detail. This is just another example of politicians pretending to care. Tex. Atty. General. Paxton and others have called the judge’s ruling a violation of state’s rights and federalism. That’s just ignorant. The 14th Amendment gives Congress the power to protect civil rights. This sounds a lot like Texas’ resistance to public school de-segregation. Shame on our state leadership” Many other states have similar problems, but that does not excuse Texas.