Source of Stories: PLAINTIFFS’ ORIGINAL COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE AND DECLARATORY RELIEF AND REQUEST FOR CLASS ACTION in the recent lawsuit filed on behalf of 12000 foster children in the State of Texas against Governor Rick Perry, Thomas Suehs, Executive Commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission of the State of Texas and Anne Heiligenstein, Commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services of the State of Texas.
There are several “named plaintiffs” suing the Texas system. They are children who have had to live in foster care on a long-term basis and they represent a “class action” suit on behalf of over 12000 other foster children.
Usually a foster care stay is approximately 12 to 18 months if all goes well, but for the not so fortunate, the stay in foster care may last for years. Many children never find a permanent home, and “age out” of foster care as a young adult who has not learned how to find a sense of security or how to trust people.
These children have become a product of their environment, harmed by the failure of a government system that needs not just an overhaul, but a miracle to fix. Whether an oversight created some problems or a lack of financial funding for a private foster family or residential facility occurred because of some bureaucratic red tape – the effects trickle down and the leftover mess is cleaned up by the ones that matter the most – the children – and when I say cleaned up, I mean dealt with.
Most of the time, the higher ups will never put a face to the name – or number these innocent children have become. Most of the time, these are not accidents, or unforeseen circumstances, but completely preventable and avoidable situations that leave these children paying the ultimate price by living in an unimaginably painful world. Negligence, abuse, misconduct, untrained workers, caregivers with backgrounds that should keep them from working in any environment ‘designed’ to protect children….are some of the causes for the damage done to these children. Caseworkers carry too high a workload with too little incentive or not enough pay for long hard overtime work hours so the turnover rate is high. The need to hire more workers often means they are not always experienced or even properly trained to deal with the depths of the situations they will encounter in their job. The real life situations of a child that they must protect if at all possible, realizing their decisions may change the course of many lives forever. That is not a light responsibility to be taken, and when the workers are hired and fired or quit so often that motivation to do the job right is low, lives can be ruined. Destroyed. By one choice made, or one decision.
I can barely touch the issues our system must address in order to affect a noticeably positive change that those families named in the lawsuit as well as those who are not. will benefit from. One thing is clear, anyone involved in the system will become someone new before its over with. The lawsuit outlines what the issues are that the children see in their daily lives when living in foster care. The lawsuit places the failures on the table for all to see now, not just the children, but anyone else who has not, until now, taken a look.
Its Almost Tuesday is thrilled that legal action has been sought to find justice for these children and families. Meanwhile we await the outcome of the battle ahead that the lawyers must face, and we can only cross our fingers that the outcome we can anticipate will be in favor of the children. We can only hope it will not only be in favor of the children, but also begin the road to remedy the harmful effects they have suffered. Somehow. Having said that it only seems appropriate now, to take the time to get to know these children, starting with M.D. the first named child plaintiff in the lawsuit.
M.D. is the first of many stories we will share. Remember, these stories are real. These experiences have been lives of children not unlike yours or mine — they have been caught up in an unfortunate trap set by a system out of control.
Child Welfare. Child Protection. How much do we see in these stories? Have these children been protected?
If they had been we would not watch as lawsuits are filed. If they were protected, I would not be writing this blog; or introducing you to these children. Although we will only learn their initials and not their full names, we will hopefully learn something about who they are – and not forget them.
Its Almost Tuesday commends all the survivors of the foster care system, applauds them for their courage when living in a world they never should have known…
This is the story of M.D.
M.D. is a fourteen-year-old girl from Corpus Christi, in Nueces County. M.D. was originally brought into state custody at age eight, placed with relatives, and then again brought back into state custody at age ten. Over the four years that M.D. has most recently been in the care of the state, DFPS has repeatedly failed in its obligation to provide for her safety and wellbeing. Instead of providing her with services and therapy to address the maltreatment that caused her removal from her parents and the abuse she suffered while living in a DFPS-selected placement, DFPS has compounded that trauma by placing her for years in inappropriate institutions; failing to provide her with critically-needed mental health evaluations and services; over-medicating her with powerful psychotropic medications; failing to seek and secure an appropriate permanent home for her; and subjecting her to numerous and frequent placement moves that have prevented her from establishing lasting relationships with caregivers, therapists, or even other children.
When M.D. was eight years old, DFPS removed her from her parents due to neglect by her mother and abandonment by her father. After nine months in the state’s custody, DFPS placed M.D. in conservatorship with her aunt and uncle. However, when M.D. was ten years old, DFPS removed her from this home, because her cousin sexually assaulted her while she was
under the aunt and uncle’s conservatorship.
After removing M.D. from her relatives’ home, DFPS moved the ten-year-old child through three foster placements over the next six months. Eventually, DFPS placed M.D. in a foster home in Dallas, over 400 miles from her home community.
Toward the end of 2007, DFPS moved M.D., still only ten years old, to an institution, an RTC in Victoria. After three months in this facility, M.D. became suicidal. She stayed there for almost two and a half years, steadily deteriorating both emotionally and psychologically. During this time, DFPS assumed PMC of the child.
From the RTC, DFPS sent M.D. to an acute care facility just outside of Houston, without making any permanent plans for her. After two months, DFPS moved M.D. 300 miles away to yet another RTC in Denton.
While at that RTC, M.D. and another young child left the facility and walked to a nearby retail establishment where M.D. was raped. After the rape, DFPS did not provide M.D. with any special counseling, even though M.D. was so traumatized that she had started cutting herself.
Instead, RTC staff chastised M.D. for leaving the facility. In the midst of the emotional turmoil resulting from the assault, DFPS sent M.D. to a juvenile detention center after a disturbance at the RTC.
During the four years that M.D. has been in foster care, DFPS has moved her through at least seven different foster placements, as well as hospitalizations. For much of this time, this young child has been kept in institutions of one kind or another – RTCs, psychiatric centers, and detention facilities. With such an existence, M.D. has been unable to form any lasting relationships.
M.D. is currently placed in an austere, restrictive short-term therapeutic placement in San Antonio. M.D. has no privileges of any kind. She has no visitors. She cannot have any toiletries. She is warehoused and alone. Her DFPS caseworker has said that M.D. will be transitioning from this facility to another RTC.
As M.D. has moved through the foster care system, she has been given numerous psychotropic medications. These drugs have been used as a chemical substitute for the care, counseling, and permanent placement in a family that DFPS is obligated to seek and secure for her. M.D. is now diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression.
While M.D. is nominally in the eighth grade, she has been placed in a number of schools attached to the institutions where she was placed. In those schools, she has been advanced from one grade to the next based on her age. Her true academic progress has been constantly interrupted by her placement in a series of far-flung facilities.
Although DFPS knew early on that M.D.’s parents were not capable of parenting her, and in fact had removed her from their care in 2005, it was not until July 2010, more than three years after she was brought into foster care for the second time, that M.D. was freed for adoption.
Despite the fact that M.D. has consistently asked to be adopted, DFPS has continually failed to seek and secure a permanent family for this lonely child. At the age of fourteen, M.D. faces the prospect that she will age out of care after four more years of being shuffled around the state from institution to institution.
Defendants have violated M.D.’s constitutional rights by failing to protect from her from harm while in their care; failing to provide adequate supervision over her foster care placements; subjecting her to frequent moves across the state far from her home community; failing to arrange for adequate therapy to address the trauma she has suffered both before and while in DFPS custody; subjecting her to unnecessary psychotropic medications; keeping her for long periods in institutions; and failing for years to identify or plan for an appropriate permanent placement.