When I child is removed by the state, a federal time-clock starts ticking. Parents have one year to try to get their child back from the state. They usually are required by a court order to work on services that make up a plan to attempt to reunify their families. Sometimes the CPS case will be extended for not more than an additional 6 months if approved by a judge. The problem is that parents have very few avenues, if any, depending on the state, for addressing problems or complaints that come up DURING their cases, and these avenues do not take into account the one year time frame. For instance, the clock does not freeze for the time period CPS takes to get back with a parent or their attorney to address the problem or complaint. This hinders a parent’s due process and they have no recourse as the clock continues to tick and the complaint goes unaddressed. Some complaints may directly affect their case, such as if they are being blocked from visitation because of misinformation or if they are not able to complete services in a timely manner because the caseworker has not sent over the proper authorization forms. Often parents are told to try to take care of issues through the courts, but if they do not have an attorney, or lack quality representation, then there is nothing they can do. No one seems to realize that filing a complaint, whether its about an attorney, a judge, a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), a caseworker, or even a service provider can have retaliatory effects on a parent and/or there simply may be NO avenue to even submit a formal complaint. This must change.
In Texas, there is an Office of Consumer Relations (OCR) that operates a formal complaint line but they rarely side with the parent to get things taken care of and are certainly not a “real-time” mechanism that takes into account the federal clock. This office only deals with violation of CPS Policy complaints. It does not address any of the other participants that a parent might have an issues with during their cases. Parents also have the option of an Administrative Review of their case but this is an official process that often takes weeks or months to complete or can be put off until the end of the case by CPS. It can only address an appeal of the Reason To Believe findings against a parent. This process cannot resolve case-level complaints parents may have with a service provider, attorney, foster parents, caseworkers, CASA advocates, judges, etc. It also does not take into account the very real possibility of retaliation during the case. Parents need a safe way to complain and get complaints resolved quickly without fear of retaliation.
The system has very little accountability built into it. Everyone talks about outcome measures but the most important statistic is the percentage of children who return HOME each year. In Texas, this number remains a dismal failure year after year – only about 30% of children go home each year. That means Texas has a 70% failure rate that has remained virtually unchanged for over 15 years. Furthermore, in Texas, DFPS chooses to co-mingle that family reunification rate with home of origin (where the child really lived before removal) and other designated family members (such as a father the child never knew) the child might begin living with at case closure. In other words, if the child was removed from one parent but ends up “reunifying” with the other parent who was not where the child lived upon removal, then Texas counts it as “reunification.” Thus, since Texas does not actually disclose the legitimate home of origin reunification statistic, no one knows just how much LOWER than 30% the state’s return rate to family of removal really is. It is disingenuous of the state of Texas to pretend they are “reunifying” families at a higher rate than is true. The lack of a real-time, easily accessible, valid, and viable complaint process for parents that would provide protection from retaliation harms families and no doubt contributes to the 70% FAIL rate of family reunification in Texas and violates due process.