Corpus Christi U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack’s December ruling that the Texas foster care system endangers thousands of children in its care may have been harsh, but it was no surprise.
The state has been trying for decades to fix that system, and about all officials can say is that at times it has been less dangerous than others.
Now the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has supported Jack’s ruling, rejecting an initial state appeal and citing one of Jack’s main points: “evidence supporting the grave problems arising from the lack of 24-hour supervision in foster group homes.”
Jack has named two special masters to help reform the Texas foster care program. They are Francis McGovern, a Duke University law professor, and Kevin Ryan, a partner in a New Jersey child advocacy organization.
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Early in their search for solutions, McGovern and Ryan should come to Fort Worth and see the work of ACH Child and Family Services, formerly All Church Home.
ACH is the state’s sole contractor in Foster Care Redesign, an innovative project approved by the Legislature in 2011. The idea is to break up the recruiting and supervising of foster homes, formerly done by the Department of Family and Protective Services out of Austin, among contractors in 19 regions statewide.
Except for the seven-county region (Tarrant, Johnson, Parker, Palo Pinto, Hood, Somervell and Erath) run by ACH, the idea never got fully launched.
But in those seven counties it has worked well, ACH says. More foster children are being cared for close to their homes rather than being sent hundreds of miles away, more siblings are being kept together and children have been kept safe.
Jack wrote in her ruling that she was “encouraged” by Foster Care Redesign. But when the case went to trial, ACH’s effort had been underway less than a year and she did not have enough data on its results.
McGovern and Ryan will find that Texas has not given ACH enough money to do its job.
ACH launched its Foster Care Redesign work in September 2014, and in its first year the funding came up $1.2 million short. The nonprofit expects to spend $5 million of its own money by the end of its three-year state contract.
Gov. Greg Abbott has taken a deep interest in fixing Texas foster care. Abbott, too, should come visit ACH.