Judge fines HHSC $100K per day over abuse and neglect investigations in Texas foster care

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A federal judge is fining Texas Health and Human Services officials $100,000 dollars per day for failing to investigate abuse and neglect allegations in the foster care system in a timely manner. 

According to an order issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack found HHSC’s Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young in contempt for violating two of the judge’s previously ordered reforms to these types of investigations.

For more 13 years, Jack has presided over an ongoing federal lawsuit against the state regarding the treatment of children in the state’s care. She previously held the state in contempt of court in 2019 and 2020 for failing to meet her court-ordered reforms, known as “remedial orders.”

Jack’s latest decision calls the investigations completed by HHSC’s Provider Investigations (PI) unit “deficient”. It states that the unit is not “taking into account at all times the child’s safety needs” and is not completing higher priority investigations within the 30-day deadline outlined in her remedial orders.

Her order comes at the request of attorneys representing foster children in the lawsuit, who argued for a finding of contempt, and even tougher measures, at a hearing that lasted several days in December. There, the court heard testimony from former foster children, their attorneys and former caseworkers about concerning and often dangerous living conditions for children and workers. Current leadership within the child welfare system was also called to testify.

In her order, the judge specifically referenced testimony from that hearing about the experience of a teen girl at a residential treatment facility who faced twelve investigations over allegations of physical and sexual abuse. The judge said her case “best illustrated” how a failure to properly investigate these types of allegations “presents safety risks” to the children involved.

Paul Yetter, the lead attorney for the plaintiff children, sent a statement following the decision that reads, in part, “The judge’s ruling is measured but urgent, given the shocking evidence. Innocent children are suffering every day. After all these years, when will state leadership get serious about fixing this disaster?” 

A spokesperson for HHS told KXAN they are reviewing the judges 427 page order and its attachments.

This is a developing story, and KXAN will update this article when more details become available.

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