AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge has declined to dismiss a class-action lawsuit accusing Texas of poorly supervising foster children.
Retired U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi, for a second time, certified as a class of plaintiffs the more than 12,000 abused and neglected children permanently removed from their birth families, The Dallas Morning News (http://dallasne.ws/17jUduQ) reported Wednesday.
Jack, who held a hearing in January, ruled the New York-based group Children's Rights offered enough preliminary evidence about overworked Child Protective Services caseworkers and harried child care licensing inspectors to advance toward a trial.
Jack rejected a request from Attorney General Greg Abbott that the lawsuit be dismissed due to lack of evidence of alleged gross state failings.
Tom Kelley, a spokesman for Abbott, said Wednesday that state lawyers are reviewing the ruling to decide whether to continue appeals.
The lawsuit was filed in 2011 on behalf of nine Texas children. A federal appeals court in New Orleans last year said the plaintiffs had not properly established a legal class.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services continues to investigate the July 31 death of a 2-year-old toddler in foster care. The foster mother, Sherril Small of Rockdale, faces a capital murder charge in the death of Alexandria Hill. Small was recruited by foster care contractor Texas Mentor.
State officials after the death launched a safety review of 23 Texas Mentor homes and observed 59 children. The investigation resulted in two children being removed from a home overseen by the agency, according to the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/12OXHCm ).
Investigators discovered that caretakers for the two children were using "inappropriate discipline," said Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for Family and Protective Services. Details were not released.
Texas Mentor's internal review also continues.
"The death of Alexandria Hill is a horrible tragedy, and the department understandably conducted safety checks throughout our Austin program," said Wendy Bagwell, state director of Texas Mentor. "Our own internal review is ongoing — and extends well beyond the Small foster home — and we will implement any changes we believe will help us enhance our efforts to protect the young people entrusted to our programs."
Jack said, in her certification order Tuesday, noted high turnover among Child Protective Services conservatorship workers.
"Caseworkers are, in effect, these children's fire alarms," Jack wrote. "A caseworker that is so overburdened that she cannot visit the children she is responsible for . cannot fulfill this function."
Under a new plan proposed by Children's Rights, the case will analyze harms to both a general class of plaintiffs and three subclasses, such as youngsters living in group foster homes. Such a home cares for seven to 12 foster children.