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New State Commissioner Will Face Immediate Legal Conflict Over Texas Foster Care System


From Texas Standard:

A new commissioner will take over at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in December.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that Jaime Masters, from Kansas City, Missouri, will lead the struggling agency. The announcement came after The Dallas Morning News reported that a federal judge is threatening to fine Texas if the agency doesn’t comply with court-ordered fixes to the state's foster care system.

Bob Garrett of the Morning News says Masters currently works in county health services in Missouri, and is the former deputy commissioner for Kansas’ protective services agency.

“She has a mental health and health background,” Garrett says.

He says past commissioners have struggled to stay in the position because the agency is so big. And leaders face burnout on the job.

“It’s a killer job; it’s a thankless task,” Garrett says. “It’s been burning out people – former judges, longtime bureaucrats, people of different backgrounds, some from juvenile criminal justice.”

Masters will face – just has her predecessors did – the legal threat to the Texas foster care system. It stems from a lawsuit from 2011 that deemed the system dangerous for children. Later, a judge appointed “special masters” to monitor the agency, and Texas has spent about $10 million fighting that outcome ever since, Garrett says.

“[Texas] had a take-no-prisoners, massive-resistance position fighting this lawsuit from the get-go,” he says.

More recently, Garrett says, federal judge Janis Graham Jack in Corpus Christi put more pressure on the state to comply with the oversight, threatening to hold Texas in contempt of court and levy fines if it continues to resist. She has said Texas is blocking the court-appointed special masters’ access to data about children in the foster care system – data Jack would use to determine foster care fixes. The state says she’s overreaching.

“She didn’t want the state blocking her masters, or her, from getting the information they need to now move forward with her remedy order, which will cover a lot of things in the system,” Garrett says.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld parts of Jack’s orders, and Texas didn’t appeal that decision.

“I think they got all they could get in trimming back some of her orders,” Garrett says. “She’s now running the show, and they have to answer to her … for an indefinite period of time.”

Written by Caroline Covington.

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