Texas Supreme Court Advisory
Thursday, January 20, 2011

Contact: Osler McCarthy, Staff Attorney/Public Information, Texas Supreme Court, 512-463-1411
Janis Monger, Communications Director, Texas Appleseed, 512-296-8043

New Strategies Proposed to Help Texas’ Courts, Legal System More Quickly Transition Children from Long-Term Foster Care to Safe, Permanent Homes

A new Texas Appleseed study, commissioned by the Supreme Court of Texas Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth & Families (Children’s Commission), is recommending ways that the courts and legal system can restore a “new sense of urgency” to the challenge of transitioning thousands of Texas youth, now languishing in long-term foster care, into safe, permanent homes. 

Executive Summary

In light of the severe budget crisis facing the State of Texas, many of the recommendations included in the report are aimed at improving the system without costing additional state dollars.

“The research is extensive, and the Children’s Commission is already spearheading an effort to develop a pilot recommended by the study.  The pilot would help determine if changes in the scope, frequency and nature of case review hearings will help expedite the placement of more foster children in the safe, permanent homes these children want and deserve,” said Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.

Texas Appleseed Executive Director Rebecca Lightsey said a review of data for all 21,000 Texas children in long-term foster care in FY 2008 – and the more than 150 field interviews conducted by more than 60 pro bono attorneys and others under the direction of lead partner Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P. – documented multiple problems.  “Too often, these children are forgotten once they enter the state’s Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC).  Their placement review hearings are little more than status reports, for which some stakeholders are often ill-prepared.  The sense of urgency to find these children safe, permanent homes is lost,” she said.

Marcy Greer, partner at Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., said, “Texas has good statutes on the books, and many well-intentioned people working in the child welfare system.  But our judicial system must do a better job at holding all stakeholders accountable for doing everything possible to find permanent placements for these children and to better prepare them for life after foster care.  It is unacceptable that there are so many children in PMC without an advocate.  Many cannot even identify the attorney assigned to protect their interests.”

The Texas Appleseed report describes a system in which too many children get “stuck” – bounced from placement to placement, caseworker to caseworker, with many children having little or no opportunity to express their desires to the judge in the case review hearings.  Research showed that children in PMC for more than three years by the end of 2008 had an average of 11 different placements. In Texas, African American children are at least twice as likely to be removed from their home and placed in foster care as white children, but they are less likely to leave foster care before aging out at 18.

“If more is not done to find these children a permanent home or better prepare them to live independently after they leave the system, then – as study after study shows – children aging out of foster care will continue to be at increased risk for poverty, unemployment, poor education, early pregnancy, substance abuse, and future incarceration.  The costs to the state in lost earnings and in social service support are great, but the loss of quality of life for these youth cannot be measured,” Lightsey said.

“The Texas statute now requires children to attend their placement review hearings, but few do – and foster parents and others told us that they are not receiving notice of these hearings,” Lightsey said.  “Foster youth should not only be permitted but also encouraged to play a much greater role in their own cases.  Their input and involvement is essential.”

Texas Appleseed is recommending that judges ensure that foster children are heard in court or in chambers when their placements are reviewed; that the same judge remain responsible for the child’s case for the duration the child is in long-term foster care (PMC); that every child in PMC have a court-appointed advocate; and that docketing and notice of hearings be improved to ensure maximum participation of all parties who can help expedite the child’s placement in a permanent home and ensure that the child’s best interests are served while in foster care.

“All stakeholders in the state’s child welfare system must be more accountable to the children, youth and families we are charged with protecting and serving,” Justice Guzman said.

Lightsey said the study had the full cooperation of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) and reflects the input of the state’s leading foster care experts including judges, state agency officials, and child welfare leaders.  Casey Family Programs, a nationally recognized leader in child welfare issues, developed a Promising Court Practices guide for inclusion in the Texas Appleseed report.

This project was funded by The RGK Foundation, the Rees-Jones Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, and the Texas Bar Foundation, with general support from the Harold Simmons Foundation and the Rockwell Fund.

Rebecca Lightsey
Executive Director
Texas Appleseed
(512) 473-2800 x. 107

Tina Amberboy
Executive Director
Children’s Commission
(512) 463-9352

Marcy Greer
Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.
(512) 536-4581