PRPITX Commentary on Texas House Human Services Hearing 11/12/19
The House Human Services Committee met to hear invited testimony on 3 interim charges. We will be commenting on the portion of the hearing that pertained to this interim charge:
The Committee will review the processes and policies established by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) for receiving, investigating and adjudicating reports of child abuse, neglect and exploitation and oversight of those processes to ensure the highest quality outcome to the child. Specifically, the Committee also will review: a) the processes and policies by which DFPS investigates and substantiates allegations of abuse or neglect made by medical professionals and the processes and policies followed by medical professionals when abuse and/or neglect is suspected; and b)the consistency with which DFPS applies its policies at each stage of the investigation process and whether policies are in full accord with state and federal child welfare laws.
The 3 organizations powering the Institute have worked with families involved with CPS for many years, so the hearing was difficult to listen to from start to finish. As with most interim hearings, the testimony is usually meant to not only inform legislators about laws and policy, but also to highlight what’s going on in the “real world” where those same laws and policies are being implemented. This hearing was different however. We were about to experience a form of deception along with some blatant truth that would shock even the most experienced hearing attendees.
The Parental Rights Policy Institute is focusing on 12 introductory policy concepts that are necessary to influence critical changes to Child Welfare and this hearing provided the first opportunity for those concepts to be proven. The timing of the Institute launch was no accident and what played out during the hearing was a journey through the CPS investigations and medical cases portion of the testimony that nearly perfectly aligned with the Institute’s foundational principles, thus proving that the casework being conducted by the Institute’s founding organizations is valid, crucial, and 100% relative to what was said at the hearing.
It is important to note that this hearing had INVITED testimony only. It was broken into 4 panels: DFPS (Department of Family and Protective Services), Medical Lobbyists, Families with tragic CPS medical cases, and Legal including 2 prosecutors and a district court judge. Missing were the family and parental rights advocates that could have given testimony crossing over multiple types of cases in multiple jurisdictions across Texas and the United States for perspective of just how serious and egregious these issues are for families. This would have demonstrated the proof that what these families experienced was NOT an anomaly from any one jurisdiction, CPS office, bad actor, certain hospital or even a certain type of medical case. It remains to be seen if the human services committee will want to hear this information at a later date.
In the first panel, consisting of high up administrative personnel from DFPS, what is “supposed” to happen during a CPS investigation, from Statewide Intake through the hand-off to a regional office where the investigator is sent out to interact with the child and the family and then finally to the legal jurisdiction for prosecution, was described in detail with Powerpoints being referred to frequently. From the perspective of the audience, it didn’t seem like the Department (DFPS) was very prepared and could barely explain how the process of an investigation was even supposed to work.
The Institute is promoting multiple policies that would impact the Investigation process. What was missing from the DFPS testimony was glaring to an experienced advocate who helps families. There is NO requirement for Statewide Intake to verify any information before sending the report on to the next step. Statewide Intake is required to take even the most outrageous reports anonymously if the reporter wants to remain in the shadows. DFPS did admit that the CPS system can be misused to retaliate and yet had no answer for how to fix this problem. They admitted that they don’t really keep any records about it, don’t screen for it, and don’t ask for any prosecution of it when it happens. The Institute’s Anonymous Reporting policy that seeks for that type of reporting to be changed to Confidential Reporting would allow a level accountability for the reporters of abuse and neglect to help ensure that only valid suspicions are reported.
The next set of testimonies from DFPS focused on what happens when the CPS Investigative worker goes out to see the family. What was missing from the testimony was any description of how Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) are forced on parents, children are routinely removed from schools and daycares for questioning, how parents are escorted out of hospitals, and how Investigators coerce their way into unsuspecting homes where parents “have nothing to hide.” There were no questions about any of these frequent scenarios that terrify parents and traumatize the entire family.
The Institute has ideas about several policy changes that would address these occurrences including Full Disclosure where Miranda-style warnings would be required and the Allegations would be disclosed to the suspected parent in writing. Global investigations that are akin to fishing expeditions would not be allowed as they interrupt and usurp parental rights and erode a child’s trust. Legal Representation during an Investigation would be available if the family is indigent and Evidence for abuse and neglect would be raised to “clear and convincing” instead of “preponderance of evidence” or “ordinary prudence” which is the very low standard for this governmental intrusion. Additionally, parents would have access to Discovery if their children were subjected to questioning at CACs, especially if done without their consent.
There was also some minimal discussion by DFPS about the Federal requirement that they make “reasonable efforts” to prevent a removal. However, very few examples were given of what that might mean and the budget for these types of services routinely deletes any concrete services a family might need. At this point in the hearing, the DFPS panel had to defend their use of PCSPs (Parent Child Safety Plans) that are basically “off books” removals that are not counted in the actual removal numbers. They defended their use and proclaimed that it’s not the same as a regular removal, however, the Committee did not seem to agree. Being “Voluntold” or coerced into a PCSP agreement under threat and duress of a regular legal removal is not a “choice” at all for families. It is a governmental overreach that has a detrimental and traumatic effect on children that is not captured in the statistics and that seemed to be by design.
The Institute’s policy on True Prevention would help with some of these issues. Instead of spending more money on foster care, this policy change will seek to find financial support in the DFPS budget for concrete services that truly improve a family’s situation. Bringing back the successful Strengthening Families through In-Home Supports Program would be an example of True Prevention and would also provide valid Reasonable Efforts. It became very obvious during DFPS testimony that “reasonable efforts” were not available in all jurisdictions and that the Investigative Process was not consistent anywhere. Thus, another policy in need of Real Change put forth by the Institute, Due Process in CPS cases, cannot currently be expected in all cases.
What was also missing from the Investigation testimony was a description of how the Child Abuse and Neglect Registry works and how DFPS determines the designation of an Investigation outcome. They didn’t really explain that all it takes for a parent to be listed on the CA/N Registry is a “Reason To Believe” (RTB). They didn’t tell the Committee that no Due Process exists for how the names go on, how to get your name off, how long your name can wrongfully be on, how you might not even know your name happened to get on the list, or even how the list is verified or not. The Institute’s policy on CA/N Registry promotes an expedited and fair Due Process for notification and expungement from the list. Additionally, the Institute’s policy on System Accountability includes a real-time valid complaint process that would help eliminate mistakes.