Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) filed identical bills in their respective chambers for the 87th Legislative Session aimed at clarifying the standards Child Protective Services (CPS) must meet in order to remove children from their families.
The legislation, SB 190 and HB 576, would amend Texas Family Code, particularly with respect to the definition of “neglect,” adding more due-process rights for parents, and creating a deadline for final orders in parental termination cases.
“It is undeniable that children are traumatized whenever they are removed from their homes. There are, of course, occasions where removal is necessary because of an imminent threat to the health and safety of those children,” said Hughes and Frank in a press release.
“However, it is equally true that too many Texas children are removed from their homes unnecessarily and the rights of these children and their families are trampled on. This harm stays with these families forever. Our legislation will clarify standards for DFPS caseworkers, protect due-process for parents, and ensure families here in Texas remain united when possible.”
The legislation would amend the definition of “neglect” to mean “an act or failure to act by a person responsible for a child’s care, custody, or welfare evidencing the person’s blatant disregard for the consequences of the act or failure to act that results in harm to the child or that creates an immediate danger to the child’s physical health or safety.”
Under the proposed revision, neglect would include placing or failing to remove a child from a situation that results in an “immediate danger” of harm to the child — a term that would replace the slightly broader term under current statute, “substantial risk.”
The legislation also clarifies that neglect does not include “allowing the child to engage in independent activities that are appropriate and typical for the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, developmental abilities, or culture.”
When the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) requests the court to order parents to participate in certain services, the bill from Hughes and Frank would increase due-process rights for parents.
The bill includes a provision to appoint an attorney ad litem to represent both the interests of the child and the interests of a parent “for whom participation in services is being requested immediately after the filing but before the hearing to ensure adequate representation of the parent.”
The text also specifies that, “Before the commencement of the hearing, the court shall inform each parent” of his or her right to an attorney and, in the cases of indigent parents in financial need, their right to a court-appointed attorney.
Another notable section of the legislation would create a deadline for courts to render a final order in parental termination cases.
Hughes is the current chairman for the Senate State Affairs Committee and Frank is the current chairman of the House Human Services Committee.
Both say they “have listened to the heart-wrenching testimony of children unnecessarily removed because rules and laws were not consistent across the state.”
“Clear, uniform legal protections are absolutely essential for children and families. They are also a huge benefit to the men and women who work at DFPS,” said the lawmakers. “SB 190 and HB 567 will reduce these tragic mistakes and protect Texas children.”
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