In a landmark decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the court unanimously affirmed a trial court finding that the State of Texas was “deliberately indifferent” to the violations of the safety and constitutional rights of a class of long-staying foster children. In addition, the appeals court upheld key remedies to reform the state system with regard to over-loaded caseworkers, grossly inaccurate investigations of abuse and neglect reports, and ineffective monitoring of offending child welfare facilities. While the court pared back certain of the trial court’s wide-ranging remedial order, the affirmance signals a watershed moment in a long overdue reform of an abysmal state system.
“Texas’s foster care system is broken and it has been that way for decades,” the trial court found. “It is broken for all stakeholders, including DFPS employees who are tasked with impossible workloads. Most importantly, though, it is broken for Texas’s PMC children, who almost uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered.” The words of the Fifth Circuit panel were equally damning of the state’s system: “The combination of unmanageable caseloads and high caseworker turnover creates a ‘cycle of crisis’ that allows children to ‘fall through the cracks.’” In addition, “DFPS is aware of the systemic deficiencies plaguing its monitoring and oversight practices. It also knows that these deficiencies pose a significant safety risk for foster children. Despite this knowledge, DFPS has not taken reasonable steps to cure the problems. Indeed, it is not clear that it has taken any steps at all. The district court correctly found that the State was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm … as a result of its insufficient monitoring and oversight, and that these deficiencies are a direct cause of the constitutional harm.”
The appellate opinion can be found here.
Lead counsel for the 2-week trial and multiple appeals was Paul Yetter, assisted by Dori Kornfeld Goldman, Lonny Hoffman, and Christian Ward. Yetter Coleman investigated the state system for six years before filing the pending class action lawsuit in 2011, alongside esteemed co-counsel.