Fifth Circuit Denies State's Request to Boot Experts in Foster Care Reform

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied state officials' motion to quash the appointment of special masters who are overseeing measures to overhaul the state's beleaguered foster care system.

Governor Greg Abbott and officials from the Department of Family and Protective Services filed the appeal earlier this year, after U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack issued a blistering finding that 12,000 foster children's constitutional rights had been violated. Jack ordered the appointment of two special masters to oversee changes mandated by Jack, including the setting of practical case loads for workers on the front line. The ruling was the result of a landmark class-action suit filed in 2011 by the New York-based advocacy group Children's Rights. 

Issued last week, the Fifth Circuit's ruling came more than three months after the special masters had already been appointed.  They are Kevin Ryan, a child welfare advocate who was involved in foster care reforms in three other states; and Duke University law professor Francis McGovern, who is the president of the Academy of Court-Appointed Masters.

Paul Yetter, the Houston attorney who led the litigation on behalf of Chidren's Rights, told the Houston Press he expects the masters to issue their recommendations by September. 

"This is a huge step forward for our state's children," Yetter said. "The [Fifth Circuit] has cleared the way for Judge Jack to come up with the right remedies and start the state down the road of true reform."

Yetter said that "DFPS has been commendably cooperative," saying they want to see real change.

"On the other hand, the state's lawyers have been relentless in opposing any sort of remedies," Yetter added.

Abbott's argument that appointing two special masters at the state's expense was cost-prohibitive was just the latest in the state's five-year battle to maintain the status quo in the foster care system, where Jack found that "rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm."

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