Many adults are arrested with children in their possession, and law enforcement across Texas is often forced to answer a very difficult question: To whom does the child go for care?
The child has not done anything wrong and cannot be detained like the adult who has broken the law. Despite this growing problem, the state of Texas gives no direction to individual counties on how to navigate it.
Each police department currently has a different policy for locating an eligible adult with whom to place the child. Some departments have very strict requirements and protocols while some have none at all. House Bill (HB) 1115, sponsored by State Rep. James White, would create a procedure applicable to all counties in Texas.
THSC’s legislative team and the THSC Watchmen are on the ground in Austin watching for bills that affect the right of families to raise their children. The original bill allowed the arrested adult to name any person to whom the peace officer should release the child. Prior to releasing the child, the officer was required to conduct the following tasks:
- Pull driving records;
- Conduct an extensive background check including sex offender registries;
- Contact the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to cross-reference the person’s files with their databases;
- Verify that the person is 18 years of age or older;
- Locate the individual;
- Release the child; and
- Provide information on the child’s placement and whereabouts to the arrested adult regardless of his/her relation to the child.
THSC saw a few issues with this approach. First of all, the arrested adult should not have sole authority to determine the child’s placement if that adult is not the child’s parent or guardian.
Secondly requiring the child’s caretaker to be over 18 alienates minor parents. Texas has a growing number of parents who are under 18 and they should not be prevented from receiving their children should this situation arise simply because of their age.
Finally, information on children’s whereabouts and placement should not be freely given to arrested individuals unless they are the children’s parent or guardian.
THSC worked with White’s office to make the following amendments:
- Require that, prior to involving DFPS, the peace officer attempt to locate the child’s parent or guardian and release the child to him/her if found;
- Exempt minor parents from the age requirement;
- Limit the involvement of DFPS when a child is released to his/her parent or guardian; and
- Withhold information on the child’s whereabouts from the arrested person unless that person is the child’s parent or guardian.
Mason Prewitt, one of the THSC Watchmen, testified in committee on HB 1115. You may watch his testimony here.
Having worked closely with Rep. White’s office to make these changes, THSC is confident that your rights as parents will be protected if this bill passes. And for the remainder of this legislative session, the THSC Watchmen will continue their efforts to protect family rights in Texas. Thank you for supporting us in Keeping Texas Families Free!