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Special Masters in Foster Care Reform Appointed After State Loses Request for Stay

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A federal judge on Monday appointed two special masters to oversee reforms to the Texas foster care system, just after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state's request to stay the December 2015 ruling ordering those reforms. 

The appellate court ruled, essentially, that the request for a stay was premature, because a plan for reform had not yet been approved by U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack. The only immediate change in the wake of Jack's ruling was the prohibition of placing kids in foster group homes that lacked 24-hour supervision.

"A stay would allow the State to continue to make apparently dangerous placements in foster group homes that lack 24-hour supervision," the 5th Circuit noted in its ruling.

The state argued that it would not be able to recover costs related to the reforms if it won in a future appeal, but the 5th Circuit ruled that the public interest lies in "the safety and rights of vulnerable children," rather than a state agency's administrative costs. 

Shortly after the ruling, Jack appointed veteran child welfare advocates Kevin Ryan and Francis McGovern as special masters. Both were recommended by Children's Rights, the advocacy group that sued the state over its mismanagement of the foster care system in 2011. 

Ryan is a partner in Public Catalyst, a consulting group that works with public and private child-welfare organizations. He was involved in implementing foster care reforms in Michigan, Mississippi and Oklahoma. 

McGovern, a Duke University law professor, has extensive court-appointed master experience, although not in child welfare issues. He is the president of the Academy of Court-Appointed Masters. 

Paul Yetter, the Houston attorney who took the lead in the case, stated in a Children's Rights press release, “This is a tremendous day for thousands of children in Texas state foster care. After years of unsuccessful attempts to address the failings of an undeniably broken system, meaningful reform can finally take root. We look forward to collaborating with this all-star panel of Special Masters and the state to make things right for our kids."

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