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Sugarek/Jeffery foster family update

From Lisa Falkenberg:

The drab little courtroom off the square in Wharton, with its blond wood, stoic flags and idle metal detector at the door, seemed like an alternative universe.

Two Houston foster mothers who entered Thursday with anticipation and profound concern for the little boys recently removed from their home were jolted back by a process puttering along at half speed.

The horrifying realities facing the boys seemed shrouded in jargon and legal formalities. A CPS supervisor in a shiny suit, and the county attorney paid to represent the agency, moved with an utter lack of urgency.

The judge, Eric Andell, at least seemed to grasp the seriousness of the case and noted he’d read about it in this column last week.

The foster mothers, Angela Sugarek and Carol Jeffery, who were by all accounts loving parents to 3-year-old “Dion” and 4-year-old “Darius,” saw their plans of adoption dashed when CPS relocated the boys last month, apparently because the foster mothers had reported alleged abuse by a teen half-sibling living elsewhere in foster care.

[…]

At the status hearing last week, the foster mothers hoped the judge would consider their motion. They asked to be heard in matter, and they made a formal request to adopt the boys. But a ruling was delayed because their attorney had filed the motion only the night before.

“It seems to me the quicker we get this case to trial, the better off we are,” the judge told the attorneys and court-appointed advocates. “Time is not our friend.”

In fact, time may be the enemy for two troubled little boys with a history of abuse.

See here for the background, and be sure to read the whole thing. The good news is that CPS program director Leshia Fisher has been apprised, and is looking into things. The bad news is that she had been completely unaware that the boys had been taken away from Sugarek and Jeffery; she had assumed they had been returned to them by now. Every day that passes makes the situation worse for all involved. All we can do at this point is hope that someone steps in and fixes this.

And speaking of our bedeviled foster care system:

Two special masters appointed by a federal judge to oversee reforms to the state’s embattled foster care system have begun visiting with state officials, and their recent two-and-a-half-day orientation is projected to cost the state roughly $43,000, according to state officials.

The cost of the meetings held April 25-27 are just the beginning of an open-ended tab for court-ordered oversight after U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled last year that Texas’ long-term foster care system treated children inhumanely and violated their civil rights.

In that December ruling, Jack ordered the state to pay special masters to study ways to improve foster care over a six-month period. In March, Jack picked two special masters favored by children’s rights advocates: Francis McGovern, a Duke University law professor, and Kevin Ryan, a partner at the New Jersey nonprofit Public Catalyst, which advocates for child welfare.

Emails obtained by The Texas Tribune show the special masters and their staff arranged meetings with state officials for late April. Jack approved pay for McGovern and Ryan at $345 per hour, according to the court record.

Ryan also hired four staff members to assist him: Deborah Fowler, Eileen Crummy, Lisa Taylor and Margaret McHale. McHale received court approval to charge $305 per hour; the other three staff could charge $325 per hour, according to an email from staff at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

[…]

This isn’t the first time the state has been on the hook for the costs of an external review of the state’s child welfare system. In 2014, the state paid The Stephen Group to review the operations of the state’s Child Protective Services agency. The initial $750,000 contract has been renewed twice, for a total cost of $2.7 million.

In this case, however, state lawmakers had no choice in approving the cost of the special masters. Lawyers for the state are appealing Jack’s ruling but must comply with her orders as the appeal progresses. Republican leaders have challenged Jack’s ruling as an affront to states’ rights.

A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott said the court ruling was forcing the state to spend money it could have otherwise used to improve child safety, such as hiring more staff. Much of Jack’s ruling criticized the state for failing to hire enough caseworkers to keep track of vulnerable children.

“It’s unfortunate and disappointing that millions of dollars that could have gone to serving youth in the Texas foster care system and hiring more caseworkers will now be spent towards the legally baseless special master process,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a prepared statement.

[…]

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, told colleagues at an April hearing of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that the state was simply paying on the back end for its failures to offer preventive care.

“Every time we have a federal court telling us that we’re not complying, it ends up costing us money. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “I know we’re all concerned about cost, but we always talk about how sometimes, prevention that we could’ve done could’ve saved us a lot of money.”

That’s because we always have to do this the hard way. And because “states rights” are more important than the children. Greg Abbott himself says so.

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