January 2, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Is the Texas state agency charged with protecting children – the Department of Family and Protective Services, that oversees CPS – in line for a shakeup? This article strongly suggests that it may be (The Hill, 12/24/19).
Writer Andrew Brown of the Center for Families and Children at the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues for three initiatives to make the DFPS more accountable to parents, children and the law.
First, lawmakers must clarify statutory procedures and strengthen the evidentiary standards DFPS and the courts rely upon when making the decision to remove children [from their parents]. Under current law in Texas and several other states, all it takes to remove a child is evidence sufficient to believe that a child is in danger. This is an incredibly low standard.
That’s putting it mildly. For the most part, children, like the rest of us, are in danger frequently. Crossing a street can be dangerous as can sitting in a school classroom. But parents allowing children to cross a street or attend school aren’t placing them in danger of imminent harm,which is more like what the standard should be.
But more importantly, the Texas Supreme Court has held that any action by state officials that interferes with the parent-child relationship “can never be justified without the most solid and substantial reasons.” Needless to say, CPS caseworkers ignore that requirement as a matter of course.
Brown gives as an example of their doing so the case of Drake Pardo, age four. Drake had difficulty getting enough nourishment, so his parents, Daniel and Ashley Pardo, took him to a doctor who said that a feeding tube inserted into his stomach might be required. CPS caseworkers managed to distort the Pardo’s interest in such a feeding tube into a charge of medical abuse by them of their son. Not content with that, they represented to a judge that the matter was an emergency that required Drake to be taken immediately from his parents.
We’ve seen the misuse by CPS of “emergency” hearings and orders before. Several years ago, Houston District Judge Michael Schneider slammed CPS caseworkers for fraudulently claiming a case to be an emergency when it wasn’t. Emergency cases of course allow CPS to appear in court and obtain orders without either the presence of the knowledge of the parents. Doubtless they’re sometimes necessary, but when only CPS knows the situation and only CPS is in court, the encouragement to fudge the facts is great.
The Pardo case was no more an emergency than the man in the moon, but that didn’t stop caseworkers from telling the judge it was.
Brown also wants to see the role of so-called “child abuse pediatricians” sharply diminished. Over the past few years, there’s been a significant increase in the use of those specialists by CPS to buttress their claims of abuse. It hasn’t turned out well.
In the first place, the very fact those doctors exist tends to increase the chances of their finding a child to have been abused. After all, when your rather tenuous “specialization” depends on the presence of child abuse, you’re more inclined to find child abuse. This is not to say that those doctors intentionally misdiagnose children, but only that they’re human and have a natural tendency to protect their own bailiwick.
Worse, child abuse doctors often don’t inform parents of exactly what their role is in an investigation of alleged maltreatment. Parents understandably believe that a doctor is someone who wants to help their child, but unknown to them, he/she may be working, not for them, not for their child, but for the state. As in the Pardo case, they may be simply working to build a case against the parents. That’s an enormous ethical problem and one that doctors seldom disclose.
And sure enough, in the Pardo case, CPS based its claim of abuse solely on the say-so of one of those child abuse specialists.
Here’s Brown’s last recommendation:
A final recommendation, and perhaps the most important one, is to enact reforms to court processes that will provide real accountability for DFPS and better protect the fundamental rights of families.
That of course would include the greatly reduced use of emergency hearings. It would also include reducing or eliminating the use of “voluntary” parenting plans. That’s a pernicious process under which CPS caseworkers essentially browbeat parents into acceding to having their child taken from them and signing on to plan whereby they can get the child back after completing certain requirements outlined in the plan.
Caseworkers essentially threaten parents with lengthy court proceedings and the high probability of their losing their child for longer periods if they reject the “voluntary” plan and go before a judge. Impecunious parents opt for the “voluntary” plan even though they may not pose a danger to the child. Meanwhile, the existence of a plan agreed to by the parents obviates the need for CPS to go to court and undercuts any later claim by parents that CPS had no right to take their child.
Drake Pardo is back home with his parents after an almost six-month hiatus with CPS. His case is much in the news just as the Texas Legislature is about to reconvene. Legislators need to act to reform the behavior of CPS and its employees.