A bill that would protect “non-offending parents” from having their children removed by Child Protective Services—and, subsequently, force CPS to place children with family if removal is warranted—has moved closer to a vote in the Texas House. Meanwhile, two other bills for CPS reform remain in committee.
House Bill 567, which Krista McIntire—a consultant with Texans for Vaccine Choice on CPS-related topics—praised in a prior interview, passed 8-1 out of the House Committee on Juvenile Justice & Family Issues on Monday. State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D–Richardson) voted against the bill.
What Does the Bill Do?
“There is language in this bill that would prevent non-offending parents from being punished,” McIntire previously told Texas Scorecard. “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 removal be warranted.
The bill has moved on to the Calendars Committee, and McIntire has been told it’s set for a debate on the House floor. She asks citizens to contact their state representative and ask them to support HB 567.
House Bills 576 and 1319
Two other CPS reform bills were left in committee Monday. The first is HB 576.
“This bill has great potential to help families during an investigation, as well as families needing to be back together after removal,” McIntire said. “There’s a lot of protections in here for the families, but most importantly, for the children in the system.”
The other bill is HB 1319.
“HB 1319 will give children, parents, and social workers a timeline that will assure them their situation is temporary and the courts will come to a timely decision in their case,” bill author State Rep. Candy Noble (R–Lucas) testified to committee members on Monday. “We learned of a court case in Harris County where the judge dragged on the case for three years.”
Cecilia Wood, an attorney with 34 years of experience in these matters, testified in favor of the bill. She recalled her personal encounters with judges who didn’t find time for such hearings.
“The docket’s always going to be full. There’s always going to be too many cases,” she told committee members. “I’m all about getting a kid to the right place as soon as possible.”
“We don’t have to start it at a certain time, that’s the issue,” Wood said of the current law. “This has been used … to get around the jurisdictional timeline.” She went on to say there’ll be more space in foster care homes if these timelines are issued.
Megan Courser of Texas Home School Coalition explained to committee members that children “languished in long-term care” in the 1990s. Legislation to address the issue was passed at that time, but it left some loose ends. As a result, court cases continued to lag.
“Unfortunately, the law only provides that [it] has to commence in one year. [It] doesn’t say the trial must complete in one year,” Courser said. “In effect, the child remains in a case for months or years at a time.”
Some committee members posed arguments against aspects of the bill.
“The state’s position if their hand is forced is termination,” State Rep. Gene Wu (D–Houston) countered.
“If you have a parent working diligently for reunification … then the state should do everything they can to make sure that happens,” Noble replied. “From the testimony I’ve heard, we put roadblocks in their way.”
“Now you’re making it a hard stop,” Ramos argued.
“Again, that timeline is still a year to commence the court case,” Noble replied. “There’s still a lot of time to resolve those things without a court case.”
“Right now, the average kid is in CPS [for] 21 months,” State Rep. James Frank (R–Wichita Falls) said. “That’s an average, and that includes after removal, so that’s why it’s longer than that.”
That’s a long, long time in the life of a 5-year-old [or a] 10-year-old.
Frank asked for data on removal rates before and after timelines were put in place.
Liz Cromwright of Texas Department of Family & Protective Services, who was there to answer questions about the bill, didn’t have that specific information at the time.
“Final orders happening in less than 12 months (in Fiscal Year 2020) was 52 percent of the case,” Cromwright said. “Forty-eight percent are taking longer. And in Fiscal Year 2021, for year to date, it is down to 46 percent, which was also impacted with the pandemic circumstances.”
Wu continued to object, saying parents—even when notified—don’t understand the timeline given to them.
“I get that, and I think this actually helps that in the long run,” Noble replied. “We can tell them this is the timeline from the beginning. We can tell them these are the expectations.”
“Everyone on the team should be working for reunification if that’s attainable,” she added. “If I’m a child and a year’s gone by and that reunification has not happened, I’ve got to wonder where momma is.”
Citizens concerned about HB 576 and 1319 may contact committee members. Bills may be tracked using Texas Legislature Online.
The full hearing can be viewed here.