AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a new report pointed out potential “inconsistencies” in state records about kids in the care of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, a federal judge will take closer look at the length of time these children have spent in the state’s care.
On Tuesday, July 26, Judge Janis Jack is scheduled preside over the latest hearing in the ongoing federal lawsuit over the treatment of foster children in Texas. According to court filings, Tuesday’s hearing will focus on the status of kids in Temporary and Permanent Managing Conservatorships with the state.
Court monitors, appointed to oversee the lawsuit several years ago, filed a report which revealed more specific details about thousands of children that have spent more than 13 months in Temporary Managing Conservatorships (TMC), as opposed to moving into Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) status with the state.
The court monitors’ report defines and explains these conservatorships as such: “When the Child Protective Services (“CPS”) division of DFPS determines a child has been maltreated or is at risk and should not remain in her home it removes the child and petitions a court for Temporary Managing Conservatorship (“TMC”) over the child. If TMC is granted, DFPS takes custody of the child and attempts to achieve reunification or, if this is not possible, places the child with a new, permanent family. TMC lasts one year unless a court orders that it be extended another six months. If at the termination of TMC the child has not been reunified or placed in a new family the child is transferred to the PMC. The child remains in the State’s PMC until he or she is adopted, custody is otherwise transferred, or they age out of the system.”
It’s an important distinction, according to the spokesperson for the attorney who represents the children in the lawsuit, because the lawsuit only pertains to PMC kids.
“Judge Jack’s oversight of PMC kids is informed by data and observations collected by the court monitors on the PMC population. To get an accurate picture of the state’s compliance with the federal lawsuit, it is critical that the PMC population be counted accurately,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for DFPS told KXAN they had no comment on the claims in the report ahead of the hearing.
At a hearing in June, the judge said she was aware of 3,884 children that had been in TMC for 13 months or more. However, she also acknowledged that many of those children’s cases had received allowable extensions under a Texas Supreme Court emergency order, due to the pandemic. She asked the state to provide further details about these children, the status of their cases and a reason for any extensions to the court monitors.
The court monitors reviewed the data provided by the state and, according to the report, discovered it did not always match the state’s own IMPACT record system — which “calls into question the reliability and accuracy of the State’s data.”
IMPACT stands for “Information Management Protecting Adults and Children in Texas” and is used by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) for documentation.
The monitors detailed several specific cases where a child’s IMPACT records conflicted with the data provided by DFPS.
The monitors’ report also explains that DFPS identified a group of kids’ whose cases had been extended due to “incorrect legal status” — meaning the child’s status was labeled incorrectly in IMPACT. Of these, the monitors’ analysis revealed 339 children who needed to be “corrected” to PMC status. They also found 141 children whose cases had been dismissed and 17 labeled with “incorrect legal status” due to a data entry issue or technical difficulty.
The monitors’ report featured a table showing how long these children spent on TMC status, but this table did not include the number of children with “incorrect legal status.”
More than 30% of these children had been on TMC status for 18 months or more, according to this table. 43 children had spent more than 36 months on TMC status.
While the monitors acknowledged “the State does not control when a child’s status in TMC is extended, or when it is granted PMC,” they expressed greater concerns about the data errors found.
The monitors wrote, DFPS “does control entry of information into children’s IMPACT records, which forms the basis for the data and information provided to the Monitors and the Court. The discovery of numerous State failures to appropriately reflect a child’s legal status in their IMPACT records has serious implications for the Court’s ability to evaluate the State’s compliance with the Court’s orders.”
Judge Jack is expected to address these concerns and the content of the report in the July 26 hearing.
KXAN will update this story when more information becomes available.