During the last Texas legislative session in 2017, THSC succeeded in passing nine significant reforms to the Child Protective Services (CPS) system. However, there is still work to be done.
During the 2019 Texas Legislature, the core of THSC’s CPS reform effort is a bill that would include several major reforms which were not able to pass in 2017, including these three major items:
- Ensuring fair adjudication of rights for non-offending parents;
- Requiring the court to find specifically at each hearing whether there is a continuing danger to the child, and to return the child if not; and
- Mandating that CPS provide evidence for each of their accusations in termination cases.
1. Protecting Non-Offending Parents
In many CPS cases, just one parent is found to be abusive or neglectful. Unfortunately, the fit parent (referred to as the “non-offending parent”) often suffers during these cases because of unfair adjudication procedures that essentially treat them as if they must also be guilty, even though no evidence is provided to support this fact.
Often in CPS cases, the parents are separated. However, CPS is only required to find that there is a danger in the home the child was removed from in order to remove the child from all available homes. The non-offending parent can even be denied basic, temporary possession of the child simply if the court finds that it would be “inappropriate” to grant possession.
To alleviate this problem, the bill would require the court to make the same findings of danger to the child against each parent and each home. If the home of one of the parents is not unsafe, the court would be required to place the child in that home.
2. Requiring the Return of Children
When a child is removed from the home under a temporary order, the court is required to hold permanency hearings to determine whether the child’s current placement should remain temporary or become permanent.
Even if it finds no danger in returning the child to the home, the court can decline to return the child to the parent(s). The court has discretion to “determine” whether or not to return the child, even if “the child’s parents are willing and able to provide the child with a safe environment and the return of the child is in the child’s best interest.”
The bill requires that the court return the child to the parent(s) at the conclusion of each permanency hearing unless there is a continuing danger to the child that would make returning home contrary to the child’s welfare. This change ensures that children are not separated from their parents for any longer than necessary.
3. Requiring CPS to Provide Evidence For Each Accusation
This issue is one that THSC tackled last session, but the change fell short at the last minute. In response, Gov. Abbott commissioned a workgroup, which THSC participated in, to study the issue during the interim and recommend solutions for the 2019 session.
CPS is known to essentially copy and paste into their pleadings the entire list of grounds for termination from the Texas Family Code. This results in blatantly inaccurate pleadings, which even CPS acknowledges. For example, a parent who is only being investigated for neglect will find themselves being accused of neglect, the murder or sexual assault of another child, abandonment of a child, the murder of the child’s other parent…. The list goes on. CPS often accuses parents of every accusation available in the family code, even when they know the accusations to be false.
The root of the problem is that CPS fails to follow the current law which bars all attorneys (including CPS attorneys) from filing frivolous claims in their pleadings. The bill would remedy this problem by codifying the current litigation requirements and their enforcement applicability to CPS. It is also to CPS’s credit that during the workgroup commissioned by Gov. Abbott, CPS acknowledged the problem and agreed to make changes to help solve it.
THSC’s legislative team will be working tirelessly to pass these reforms and several others. If you would like to receive up-to-date information on this and other legislation, you can sign up for email notifications. THSC will always be dedicated to Keeping Texas Families Free!