Earlier in the month, Judge Janis Jack conducted a hearing to follow up on the progress made on the thirteen remedial orders. The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) were not in compliance and were previously held in contempt.
Ahead of the hearing, the court-appointed Special Monitors filed two reports, one of which detailed the information they compiled regarding updates on these remedial orders and the other that went into more depth about the placement capacity crisis, which has left children without placement and being housed in unlicensed facilities.
Ultimately, the reports indicated substantial progress in some areas, including:
- Ensuring new caseworkers have graduated caseloads as they learn the job;
- Notifying caseworkers of allegations of abuse or neglect in the placement of a child on their caseload;
- Shorter wait times and fewer referrals are being inappropriately downgraded at Statewide Intake; and
- Timeliness of initiating and completing investigations.
While there have been improvements, some startling information reveals that the state continues to place children at an unreasonable risk of harm. Also, concerns were raised about the safety and lack of placements. In fact, 23 children in the Permanent Managing Conservatorship of the state have died since the Fifth Circuit issued its final ruling in July 2019. The reports and two-day-long hearing continued to point out that licensed placements continue to operate despite their long histories of deficiencies. Judge Jack repeated numerous times her concerns with placements being able to close their facilities and open up a new placement under a different name to avoid enforcement measures. Information was also revealed about children being housed in unlicensed facilities when a placement can’t be secured. Furthermore, 339 children have slept at least one night in a DFPS office since August 2020.
Interestingly, this was the first hearing in which the Single Source Continuum Contractors (SSCCs) in areas in which Community-Based Care (CBC) has been implemented were present and questioned alongside DFPS. Judge Jack made it very clear that the SSCCs were also under the same orders as DFPS. However, the information provided by the Special Monitors revealed that DFPS outperformed the SSCCs in several areas. They also raised questions about the implementation of CBC and the ability of DFPS to provide proper oversight, including concerns with:
- Higher caseloads for caseworkers who work for SSCCs than DFPS;
- Inadequate training for new caseworkers for SSCCs; and
- Unreliable or nonexistent data for SSCCs.
Throughout the hearing, the resounding question from Judge Jack was “when?” in reference to what the plan is to come into compliance with each remedial order. While the hearing ended with Judge Jack expressing some optimism for the state agencies and SSCCs, there is no doubt that some major issues need to be addressed. We are approaching two years since the remedial orders have been mandated. We all share with Judge Jack’s standing questions of “when.” The stakes are high. For the sake of children’s wellbeing and lives, there is no time to waste.