One of the greatest injustices of the Child Protective Services (CPS) system is that a parent who is not accused of doing anything wrong can have his or her parental rights terminated. How does this happen?
In many CPS cases, only one parent is accused of abuse or neglect. This situation is especially common when the parents are separated and one parent has no knowledge of the other parent’s actions. In these cases, CPS refers to the parent not accused of abuse or neglect as the “non-offending parent.”
Although non-offending parents are legally fit parents, they are often dragged into CPS cases and accused of abuse or neglect, even though everyone knows they are actually innocent. This problem is caused by several factors.
1) The court can remove a child from both parents even if only one committed abuse or neglect.
When CPS removes a child, they are required to prove to the court the existence of a specific set of circumstances that would put the child in imminent danger if he or she remained in the home. The court must return the child home unless it finds that such a danger exists.
Under the current statute, however, the court is only required to find a danger to the child in the home from which the child was removed, even if the parents are separated and the child has another home available. If the child does have another home available that is safe, CPS is still able to remove the child from both parents in both homes.
Therefore, non-offending parents can still lose custody of their children simply because the court is not required to consider all of a child’s available homes before putting the child into foster care.
2) The court can force an innocent parent to participate in special services and terminate parental rights if those services aren’t completed.
Court-ordered services are intended to provide the court with an alternative to ordering a child’s removal. In theory, if there is a danger to the child that does not necessitate immediately removing the child, but that is reasonably likely to necessitate removing the child in the near future, the court should attempt to reduce that danger through court-ordered services rather than remove the child.
However, the court can force a parent to participate in services even if they are a non-offending parent who was never accused of abuse or neglect.
Furthermore, if the non-offending parent fails to comply with the court-ordered services, the court can terminate his or her parental rights solely because he or she failed to comply.
Thus, a parent who was never accused of abuse or neglect can have his or her child removed simply because a spouse or significant other (who may live in an entirely separate home) is accused of abuse or neglect. Once the child is removed, the court can order the non-offending parent to participate in services.
If the parent fails to complete these services, which can often be financially and logistically burdensome, the court may completely terminate his or her parental rights. That is clearly unconstitutional and extremely damaging to children and families.
- Find a danger to the child in each of the child’s available homes before CPS can remove the child from both parents; and
- Meet certain minimum due-process standards before it can order a parent to participate in court-ordered services.
For nearly two years, THSC has been working in partnership with the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and numerous stakeholders to ensure that the Child Trauma Prevention Act protects Texas families and reflects input from judges, attorneys, state agencies and activists who interact with CPS. Our legislative team on the ground in Austin is working tirelessly to protect the rights of Texas families during the 2019 legislative session.
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