A lengthy federal suit filed this morning by the national advocacy group Children's Rights says Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials have neglected their legal responsibility to the children in state care, and violated their constitutional rights, by "failing to either return them safely to their families or find them safe, appropriate, and permanent new families."
Backed by a trio of Texas law firms including Victory Park-based Haynes and Boone, M.D. v. Perry names nine specific plaintiffs by their initials. In a press release this morning, Children's Rights says the suit -- which follows in full -- was filed "on behalf of the approximately 12,000 children who have the misfortune of being in the long-term foster care" of Texas's Department of Family and Protective Services.
DFPS Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein and Health and Human Services Commissioner Thomas Suehs are also named as defendants in the complaint, which includes a list of proposed reforms -- including a limit on DFPS workers' caseloads, a new accountability system for the agency, and "special expert panels to review the cases of all class members who have had more than four placements."
As it is, children in DFPS custody typically have a year to find a permanent foster home, or be reunited with their old family, before they're placed in "permanent managing conservatorship," a long-term solution where, the group says, children are "forgotten" by the state. The cases detailed in the complaint -- of children from 9 to 16 years old -- detail frequent shuffling between group homes, mismanaged medication, abuse and separation from brothers and sisters.
"Once children cross the line into permanent foster care, the state essentially gives up on their prospects for ever leaving state custody with permanent families of their own," said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights. The complaint seeks nothing less than the reform of the state's foster care system.
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