A legal consultant who has witnessed an “abuse of power” by Texas’ Child Protective Services highlights how CPS is threatening Texas families and what you can do to protect yourself. She also discusses several proposed bills in the Texas Legislature that would help bring reform to the “out of control” department.
In June 2019, CPS came to Daniel and Ashley Pardo’s house—unannounced and with armed officers—and illegally took their 4-year-old son, Drake, who had many medical and developmental needs. CPS justified the raid by citing undisclosed “medical child abuse.”
CPS eventually admitted they had no justification for this, and the Texas Supreme Court ordered Drake to be returned home later that year. Last December, the Pardos were finally removed from Texas’ child abuse registry.
Krista McIntire, former director of Family Rights Advocacy and a consultant with Texans for Vaccine Choice on CPS-related topics, assisted the Pardos.
“One of the reasons [CPS agents] weren’t communicating with the Pardo family was because Ashley Pardo had stated, prior to having an attorney, ‘I’m happy to speak to you, but my husband has to be present,’” McIntire said. “CPS did not like that.”
For six years, McIntire has been helping families across Texas deal with CPS, and her experience has changed her once-positive opinion of the government entity to a strongly negative one.
“At the moment, I believe CPS is an absolute nightmare to families,” she told Texas Scorecard. “We have an agency that is supposed to protect children, and what’s really happening is we have an agency that’s out of control, with no accountability.”
It’s so out of control it cannot be fixed overnight, and families need to be well aware of their rights.
“There needs to be a cultural change for the agency to handle reports that come in for innocent families,” she continued.
However, McIntire said CPS is also hurting families that truly are in need of help.
Out of Control
An example of this is a family in which one parent is physically abusive, and the other parent and the children are victims. McIntire said the way CPS handles these situations revolves around their term “reasonable efforts.”
“[CPS] will come in and say, ‘We need you to do A, B, and C.’ And A, B, and C might be, ‘You need to divorce your husband, you need to divorce your wife, you need to hire an attorney.’” McIntire said the problem with this approach is domestic violence victims have often been trained to feel powerless.
“What ends up happening is that offending parent gets out of jail, and they come back. And now they have a new form of control,” she continued. “Now, when they physically abuse the mother or the child, these abusers will hold over the non-offending parent’s head the threat of CPS removing her child if she calls the police.”
We have created a situation where victims of domestic violence—typically women—cannot get help.
Even when a victim of domestic violence is safely out of that situation, CPS will then push for a “psychological evaluation” of the victim. “Because—I’m saying this with complete sarcasm—if you’re a victim of domestic violence, there must be something wrong with you,” McIntire said.
She adds psychological evaluations are “the root of all [child] removals.”
With families involved with drug or alcohol abuse, McIntire says CPS’ attempts to help can set up the parents for failure.
“They put [parents] in so many services that they cannot maintain employment, they can’t get off work in time to get to their service, or they have to cancel it because they have to work,” she explained. “Putting them in services is great, but when you put them in so many that it’s set up to fail, they end up either losing their children or losing their job. And if they lose their job first, losing their children is next.”
McIntire said not every situation involving parents abusing substances requires removing the children from the home.
“I don’t look at these cases as protecting or defending the problem,” she said. “We get the family the help that they need. We get CPS out of the way. We prove to the department that this family is capable of governing themselves with their community and their friends and family.”
“When we have families like that, yes, I realize that there’s a problem in the household,” McIntire acknowledged. “But if the children are going to be negatively affected by the investigation, then the agency is not really helping the parents or the children; they’re hurting the children.”
McIntire says she’s also witnessed outright abuse of power from CPS.
Abuse of Power
“The first abuse of power that I see regularly is when a family opens the door or answers the phone [to CPS],” she recalled, going on to say those who understand the severity of the situation will ask for 24 hours to contact their attorney. Sometimes CPS will agree to this, but not always.
“Or they’ll say, ‘If you don’t let me in your house right now, if you don’t let me talk to your children right now, I am going to go get a court order,’ and that immediately scares families. I have seen [the investigator] go right to their supervisor and tell their supervisor a complete lie [about] the scenario.”
McIntire described how this unfolds.
“The supervisor repeats the story to the program director, and the program director speaks to legal. And then, worst-case scenario, legal moves forward with pursuing a court order to aid an investigation, which is to force all the boxes to be checked, such as interviewing your children, checking your home, and interviewing the family,” she said. “And at that point, a judge has the ability to actually demand more things upon the family.”
McIntire emphasized that when CPS is involved, your innocence means nothing.
“The way CPS operates … it doesn’t matter if you have something to hide or not,” she said. “Their job is to dig … and find something wrong, and if they don’t find something wrong, they will continuously ask questions and look for something wrong.”
Most government departments answer to someone. Who does CPS answer to aside from the Texas Legislature, who sets the budget?
“They have an internal department called the Office of Consumer Relations,” McIntire said. “Some people call it the Office of Consumer Affairs.”
Can’t citizens just go to them for help?
“Every single family that I have ever helped to give the Office of Consumer Relations a complaint has received a letter saying [CPS] did nothing wrong,” she recalled.
The Texas Legislature is in session through May, and McIntire is hard at work supporting bills she believes will help bring much-needed reform to CPS.
“Many people that make false reports understand that when they do so, they do not have to give their information. And they know that their information is anonymous, and there’s no accountability right there,” McIntire explained. “We cannot keep allowing … vendettas against whoever, or school districts who don’t like the way parents are parenting [their] children.”
“We’re calling it the Miranda warning bill, because when families become under investigation, they have no idea what their rights are,” McIntire said. A caseworker is supposed to give parents a booklet about what to expect. “However, in that booklet, it’s really not a Miranda warning,” she continued. “It’s a sugar-coated version of what’s about to happen to your family.”
McIntire said HB 2737 and SB 647 would require CPS caseworkers to inform those being investigated of their rights. While there’s nothing in these bills banning retaliation for seeking an attorney, she believes they’re still a step in the right direction.
“There is language in this bill that would prevent non-offending parents from being punished,” she said. “We have a lot of non-offending parents out there that are having their children removed or put in services.”
It also has language that forces CPS to place children with family should a removal be warranted.
Call to Action
McIntire’s immediate call to action for citizens would be to call members of the Texas House Human Services Committee and ask them to support HB 567. A public hearing was held on March 8, and the committee has yet to vote on it.
She also said citizens may write a thank-you note to Gates for authoring HB 1895.
But in the meantime, what can families do if they encounter CPS?
“What I always tell families is, if you get a phone call from the Department of Family Protective Services, you always say, ‘I appreciate you looking out for the best interest of my children. If you will give me your business card, I will call you back in 24 to 48 hours,’” McIntire advised. “If they come to your door, open the door and repeat the same script.”
“If a caseworker says, ‘I just need to see your children,’ you may show the caseworker your children on the inside of your threshold, [but] leave the caseworker on the outside of the threshold,” she continues. “Allow the caseworker to visibly see the children.”
What if the caseworker asks to take a photo of your children? McIntire advised, “Say, ‘You may have a picture of me and my children together.’”
“The people making the decisions to possibly remove my children are having to look at a picture of me and my children,” she said.
McIntire encourages families who have been contacted by CPS to hire an attorney if they can.
“I wholeheartedly believe if you are a family that has the means to hire an attorney, you need to hire an attorney upon that first contact,” she said.
Other programs are available depending on the family’s situation.
“If you are a family with a child who has special needs, you need to look into Heritage Defense as an insurance program for your family,” McIntire said. “And if you have children with disabilities and you are a homeschooling family, Texas Home School Coalition also has [an] insurance program.”
That way, the minute CPS comes to your door … you are immediately covered with representation.
McIntire encouraged anyone who has a personal story about CPS and their family to email their state representative and state senator.
You may also email your story to Texas Scorecard at firstname.lastname@example.org