For the better part of eight years, the state’s foster care system has found itself in the cross-hairs of legal proceedings aimed at bringing about reforms to protect one of the most vulnerable populations in Texas.


Those looking to change a narrative in which outside the system say too many children fall through supervisory cracks and suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse, despite the fact Child Protective Services, under the auspices of the Department of Family and Protective Services, has a $1 billion budget and thousands of employees.


The latest chapter of the long and winding saga unfolded earlier this week in Dallas with U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack taking Department of Family and Protective Service officials to task and finding them in contempt for not complying with orders she previously had issued.


The New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights Inc., brought the original class-action lawsuit in 2011, claiming the state committed too few resources to foster children in its care, stretching caseworkers too thin and often putting children in perilous situations, according to the Texas Tribune. Statistics indicate approximately 30,000 children are wards of the state at any given time.


Jack’s ruling came down in late 2015, and while some orders did not survive scrutiny from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, most did when that court released its opinion earlier this year. For example, the appeals court struck down an order that would have created a cap on the size of a worker’s caseload. Instead, that discretion rests with the state, which has been tasked with developing specific guidelines.


Still, in the months since the appeals court ruling, the state’s progress has been deemed woefully unsatisfactory by Judge Jack, whose original ruling found the state had “violated the constitutional rights of Texas foster children to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm,” according to the Texas Tribune.


“The judge came down hard on the state, for good reason,” Paul Yetter, an attorney representing long-term foster children in the suit, said in the Tribune’s story. “Her orders need to be obeyed in the interest of the children.”


Jack, whose written ruling included stinging criticism that “foster children often aged out of the system more damaged than when they entered,” ordered every home or facility that houses foster kids with six or more children have enough staff hired to supervise the children, awake for 24 hours per day. Also, the state must change its electronic records system to make it clear if a child has been a victim or a perpetrator of sexual violence. The judge put two people in place to oversee the state’s progress.


“I can no longer find [the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services] to be credible in any way,” Jack said in the Tribune’s story. “It’s shameful … You all cannot be relied upon for anything. Period.”


The judge was rightfully outraged that a former executive of the state’s Child Protective Services agency had not truthfully answered in court regarding state requirements for some foster children to have 24-hour, awake supervision. She was equally upset that no other agency staff member had come forward to challenge the veracity of that statement.


For its part, the state has pushed back, saying officials have been “working expeditiously” to implement the court’s orders. They say it is a complicated matter because of the large number of private contractors involved that provide housing for foster children. “Our children deserve reasonable provisions that make that care more safe and accessible, and we are dedicated to working with all parties toward that goa,” Marc Rylander, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement.


Judge Jack was unsympathetic. “You have created a crisis,” she said in the Tribune’s story. “You are trying to fix it and blame it on somebody else.”


The upshot of all this is if the state doesn’t meet the judge’s timeline, it could have serious financial repercussions. Jack ruled the state could have to pay $50,000 per day for missing deadlines to demonstrate serious progress in the matter with the amount doubling to $100,000 per day later this month. It has already been a pricey undertaking with state officials arguing that $15 million in fees charged by some children’s attorneys was excessive. Published reports indicate the state has spent more than $10 million on the long-running legal battle.


This cost is beyond what are projected to be serious financial commitments for the agency as it hires additional caseworkers and works to improve the technology behind its electronic records system so important information is more readily accessible.


It can be easy to ignore the plight of foster children, but the state clearly must do better and must do so quickly. As overseers of foster children, Texas owes it to them to implement necessary reforms and protections and move as prudently as possible to put this costly (in dollars and reputation) legal battle in the rear-view mirror – once and for all.