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Foster Care in Texas: A Broken System, Without Much Hope for Improvement

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Thousands of Texas foster children are subject to "immeasurable and permanent harm and are deprived of the opportunity for a safe children," according to a class-action lawsuit filed by a New York-based advocacy group against Governor Rick Perry and state child welfare officials.

Filed in March by Children's Rights, the lawsuit is filed on behalf of approximately 12,000 kids in the Department of Family and Protective Services' Permament Managing Conservatorship program. Of course, the suit doesn't say anything that state officials haven't said for years -- namely, that foster kids are separated from siblings, bounced throughout substandard facilities across the state, and given little chance of finding a permanent home. Even Perry's Adoption Review Committee recently noted that the state system often does more harm than good.

But DFPS and others say the lawsuit couldn't come at a worse time; that, for the first time in memory, stakeholders in the foster system have worked together to produce a redesign that addresses problems that allowed children to languish for far too long.

Yet, looking at the recommendations, proffered by a highly touted "Public Private Partnership," it's difficult to tell how the changes -- namely, adjustments to contracting and payment procedures -- will produce the significant improvements officials have been calling for for years. And it's also unclear exactly how the lawsuit itself will produce sweeping reform; while Children's Rights' suit has brought more attention to the state's troubled system, it does little in the way of bringing bold new ideas to the table.

Meanwhile, thousands of kids are stuck in a system that offers little chance of escape. (As the lawsuit notes, roughly 500 children have been in foster care for ten years.) These children have been ripped out of supposedly abusive or neglectful environments, only to be placed in potentially similar situations by the state. Such a foster system could not exist in a state government that sincerely cares about protecting its most vulnerable population. As one unidentified state judge said in an oft-cited quote, referring to kids languishing in PMC: "These are the children that even God has forgotten."

This week's cover story examines the lawsuit, the foster system's history, the planned redesign, and what some kids who've aged out of the system think of it all.

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