- Associated Press - Friday, December 23, 2016

DALLAS (AP) - U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack, who ruled that Texas’ foster care system is unconstitutionally broken, has been named The Dallas Morning News’ Texan of the Year.

Jack “punctured our comfortable obliviousness to the appalling treatment” being endured by the 12,000 children labeled permanent wards of the state, the newspaper said in its announcement of the award Friday (https://bit.ly/2i9ge8i ).

“It takes an extraordinary person to hold up a mirror that shows us the stark reality of our indifference. And it takes a powerful voice to make it clear that our state has countenanced unspeakable suffering for far too long,” the newspaper said.

It noted that Jack’s December 2015 ruling not only focused statewide attention on those in long-term foster care, but all of the approximately 30,000 children whose welfare is overseen by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency that oversees Child Protective Services.

Jack has ordered an independent overhaul of the foster care system and has appointed experts to come up with a plan.

Her order followed a lawsuit that was filed by the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights along with attorneys from Texas. The plaintiffs were children who had been placed in long-term foster care.

“In a just world, they would be at the front of the line for the best care and compassion society could offer. In reality, they are, in Jack’s words, ‘the forgotten children,’” the newspaper said.

Jack devoted nearly half of her 260-page ruling to detailed histories of the child plaintiffs. One child, Jack wrote, entered the foster care system at age 5 and within months reported being raped by an older child. The girl was moved more than 45 times, including to psychiatric hospitals, and missed several chances for adoption because of paperwork delays. At 18, after aging out of the system, she walked into traffic. She was hit by a car but survived.

The newspaper called the judge’s ruling an “extraordinary document,” noting “it examines Texas child-welfare procedures in more exacting detail than many DFPS bureaucrats were able to define at trial” and “it identifies systemic failings that have been repeated for decades.”

“Dramatic change needs a catalyst,” said Houston lawyer Paul Yetter, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the case. “Judge Jack’s opinion shines such a bright light on this broken system that the harm to these children cannot be ignored.”

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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