After a Texas Tribune series exposed the connections between the state's embattled child welfare system and child sex trafficking, the chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus has asked state Attorney General Ken Paxton to stop fighting a federal judge’s mandate to overhaul the agency charged with protecting vulnerable kids.
“If there was ever a call to action for state officials to get serious about reforming foster care, this was it,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, wrote in the letter to Paxton on Wednesday.
The lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit filed against Texas' child welfare system was a victim of sex trafficking. Turner’s letter cited the Tribune’s reporting in the “Sold Out” series, which found there could be tens of thousands of child sex-trafficking victims in Texas today — and that many of them have had some contact with the child welfare system.
“Those stunning facts should outrage every single one of us,” Turner wrote.
Since a federal judge ruled in late 2015 that the long-term foster care system had violated children’s constitutional rights by placing them at undue risk of harm, Paxton has objected to or worked to delay various court-ordered reforms.
The judge’s scathing opinion held that Texas had violated the constitutional rights of some 12,000 children in permanent managing conservatorship, the state’s designation for children who cannot find lasting homes with relatives or adoptive parents and are unable to be reunited with their biological families. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled that children "often age out of care more damaged than when they entered."
"Since the ruling, you and your office have inexplicably spent an inordinate amount of time, energy and money on pointless and unsuccessful appeals and objections,” the letter said. Paxton’s most recent objection, which the court rejected last week, is the latest example of “legal foot-dragging,” Turner wrote.
Paxton and other top Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have argued the class-action lawsuit against the state is a waste of money, that the federal judge overstated foster care's deficiencies and that the state can make its own decisions about reforms. Paxton’s office has called the ruling a “misguided federal takeover of the Texas foster-care system.”
Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. In previous comments about the lawsuit, Paxton has said he is obligated to defend the state, not make policy.
- Texas leaders have publicly battled sex trafficking for more than a decade, but they've devoted hardly any resources to helping victims.
- The state’s top leaders have remained silent on whether they'll provide more resources for sex-trafficking victims — or more funding for the crippled child welfare system that’s supposed to protect vulnerable kids.