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Texas faces fines over sexual abuse of children in foster care system

The GOP baselessly labels Democratic opponents as enablers of sexual abuse. But a federal judge said Gov. Greg Abbott's administration has done lots of enabling on its own.


In their quest to demonize nonwhite people, LGBTQ people and non-Christians, Texas Republicans have scapegoated all sorts of things as threats to children. 

This includes books and lesson plans about racism, discussions about nonheterosexual people, gender-affirming health care and even drag shows

There's no evidence these things are actual dangers to children, of course. But notably, the same can’t be said for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

That’s because a federal judge on Monday threatened the Republican governor and his administration with significant fines for contempt, stemming from what she said is the state's failure to improve conditions in its foster care system. For years, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack for the Southern District of Texas has ordered Texas officials to address systemic issues in foster care as part of an 11-year class-action lawsuit against the state.

In Monday’s court hearing, Jack told a lawyer for Abbott, and officials from departments overseeing the system, that she was, “looking at substantial fines for contempt — enough that I need you to know you’re entitled to a jury trial.” 

 “I think the public would welcome a jury trial, based on several things that are going on,” she said, adding the negligence has “gone on long enough without action, without any remedial action by me.”

Specifically, Jack cited the Abbott administration’s inadequate background checks of caregivers and the high rate of sexual abuse of children in the foster care system, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Court-ordered monitors assigned to observe the system reported that a quarter of the children whom the state Department of Family and Protective Services identified as victims of sexual abuse were abused after entering the state's foster care system

“That is not an acceptable figure,” Jack said. “I don’t know what is an acceptable one but 25 percent is not.”

She referenced a particularly troubling incident, in which a woman who was fired from a state juvenile correctional facility after being accused of sexually abusing children was hired months later by a foster care facility for victims of sex trafficking. The woman was later accused of soliciting and selling nude photos of girls in that facility’s care. 

Monday's hearing followed several court directives for the state to clean up its foster care operations. In 2019, Jack briefly levied $50,000 a day in fines against the administration for failing to comply with court-mandated actions. At the time, she said Texas failed to require that foster homes with six or more children have enough staff to supervise them 24 hours a day. The state also failed to set up an easily accessible database so foster caregivers can keep track of whether a child has been a victim or perpetrator of abuse, according to Jack. The fines were lifted after just three days when the administration said it was in compliance. 

But Jack found the administration in contempt again in September 2020. And in May 2021, she found the administration had made “some progress” but said “serious risks of harm to children persist.” And as it turns out, those problems are still unresolved. 

It’s an inconvenient truth for the GOP. In recent months, we’ve seen Republicans nationwide — including Texas Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz — feed bigoted conspiracy theories alleging Democrats are enablers of sexual abuse of children. But it bears repeating that a federal judge is literally accusing the largest Republican-led state in the country of doing just that.