This editorial first appeared in The Dallas Morning News. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
Sometimes a situation is so mired in dysfunction that it can benefit both from a fresh perspective and a jump-start on moving forward.
We see those points materializing in two recent developments involving a state agency that has struggled for years to do what its name says it must do — protect children.
First, Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointment last week of Jaime Masters as the new commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services gives us hope that the state may finally start fully abiding by a federal judge’s ruling to fix this system.
That Masters, who comes from Kansas City, Missouri, is not an insider might be the spark this agency needs to replace years of fighting this ruling with a renewed focus on systemic reforms.
Then came a recent Dallas Morning News report that U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack has threatened to hold Texas in contempt of court and fine it daily if it drags its feet complying with her orders, including reducing caseloads for CPS workers who supervise foster children.
Jack, whose patience is understandably running short, pointed out that the state “lost” a long-running class-action suit filed eight years ago. She vows that she and court-appointed monitors will continue to supervise this system indefinitely to keep vulnerable children safe.
Her warnings should remind us all what this case is truly about: “Any delays may clearly result in possible rape, other serious injury and death to these vulnerable children.”
Texas has made some progress. Lawmakers approved $12,000 raises for caseworkers to reduce turnover, for example. It was also a promising sign that the state didn’t ask the Supreme Court to review an appellate judge’s ruling that upheld portions of Jack’s proposed remedy order in the case.
But Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have fought the basic essentials of this ruling long enough.
And Texas can ill afford any federal fines. Already, the state has spent $10 million in taxpayer money fighting this ruling that could have gone to improving the lives of these children.
Jack ruled in this case in 2015. She found that Texas runs a “broken” foster care system that unconstitutionally fails to protect abused and neglected children who have not been returned to their families’ homes or adopted.
It’s shameful that she’s having to issue these kinds of warnings now.
As the new leader of this agency, Masters has her work cut out for her when she starts in December. She’s got experience at Kansas’ child welfare agency as well as two urban county governments in Missouri and Kansas.
We hope new eyes from outside the system bring renewed energy toward real reforms. We urge lawmakers to insist that state officials get on with the business of complying with what Judge Jack has demanded. It’s past time for Texas to ditch the politics of winning and instead put these kids first.