What happens to your Texas CPS case once you get to court?
CPS cases usually will follow one of two paths after the agency receives a phone call where abuse or neglect of your child is being alleged. Those allegations are investigated and if there is no evidence but insufficient evidence to substantiate those allegations then your case will be closed out. On the other hand, if there is sufficient evidence to substantiate an allegation it is likely that you or a member of your household will have been found to commit an act of abuse or neglect.
In instances like the latter, where abuse or neglect is found, often times a court case occurs. A lawsuit will be filed on behalf of your child by CPS wherein CPS asks a court to take temporary conservatorship over your child. While your child is in the temporary care of CPS and/or a foster family, you are made to follow a safety plan or other outline of care that allows you to take steps to ensure that your home is a more suitable and safer environment for your child.
In yesterday's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we concluded our post by going through the first step in the legal process associated with a CPS case- an Adversary Hearing. This is the initial hearing where CPS will attempt to convince a judge that it is necessary for your child to remain in their temporary care. You and your attorney will attend this hearing and attempt to put forth evidence that would cause the judge to believe that your child should be returned home with you.
Let’s continue to discuss the legal process and the steps that are taken once your case has made it past this initial hearing.
Permanency Planning Team Meetings
Not all of the parts of your legal case will occur inside of a courtroom. Early in the life of your child's case, you will be asked to attend a Permanency Planning Meeting. The judge will not be present for this meeting but it is very important, nonetheless. Your Service Plan will be developed in this meeting and will be agreed upon by you, your lawyer, your child (if over the age of 7), and your child’s caretakers.
The most important aspect of the Service Plan is that it will include a Permanency Plan that outlines the end goal of your CPS case. Basically, it describes what you want your child’s permanent living arrangement to be once CPS is out of the picture. For most families, that goal would be to have your child and you be reunified in your home.
In the event that your child cannot return home, a second plan will be worked simultaneously. Your child could go to live with relatives or a close friend of yours on a long-term basis. Adoption of your child by those people or by the foster family currently caring for him or her is another option that can be explored as well. A less desirable alternative would be to have your child remain in foster care until he or she reaches the age of 18. The Service Plan will outline those criteria that you must meet in order to have your child returned to your home.
These meetings will occur more than once during the lifetime of your CPS case. The reason for this is that a CPS case will evolve over time. Your needs will change, your child’s needs will change, conditions in your home will improve, etc. As such, updates to the plan need to be taken into consideration and input will be sought from all parties involved. As the case proceeds, your progress will be discussed by these parties and you will be alerted to whether or not you are on track to have your child reunited with you at the end of your CPS case. It is for the best if you can keep track of the progress you are making in meeting the goals of the plan so that you can highlight them in this meeting.
Finally, you will want to meet with your attorney prior to having a Permanency Meeting with CPS. The reason is that some of the parts of your prior service plans may no longer be necessary or may no longer be working out for you. In a situation like this, you should let your attorney know this ahead of time so that the issue can be raised in your meeting. It is crucial that your opinions be heard. After all- it is your child who is the subject of this case.
More information on Service Plans
Your service plan should address issues that are discussed in the Petition that CPS filed in order to gain temporary conservatorship rights to your child. This means that if there are no allegations of drug or alcohol abuse in the petition, then you should not be made to undergo drug or alcohol testing as a part of the service plan. CPS may request that something is added to a service plan out of habit and may not be aware that you do not require that particular service. Speak up for yourself if you have questions or see an issue in regard to your service plan.
Once you sign the service plan, you are telling the court that you agree to each and every line item that is contained in the plan. It is also agreeing to the reasons why CPS became involved in your family’s life in the first place. You have the ability to write in anything you disagree with CPS about. Read the plan carefully before you sign it. It is not an excuse to tell a judge or CPS that you did not read the entire plan and therefore does not agree to something included in the "fine print."
There is a serious risk that your parental rights could be terminated if you do not complete the service plan. The service plan is a roadmap to your being reunited with your child and having CPS out of your life. I'm sure that you would take it seriously, but I am going to take this opportunity to implore you to understand the service plan and to do your best to meet every goal outlined in that plan. If you do so, you greatly increase your chances of being reunited with your child at the conclusion of your case.
Now, we find ourselves back in a courtroom with the judge in a status hearing. A status hearing is usually held about two months after your child is removed from your home. By this time CPS has been a conservator of your child for an extended period of time. You will have been able to attend a CPS Permanency Plan meeting as well. The purpose of the status hearing is to have the judge hear from you about the progress made in meeting the goals of your service plan. Your direct involvement in the creation of the plan as well as your understanding of its requirements will be discussed in court and established for the record of your case. You should talk to the judge about the progress you are making when he or she asks you about that subject.
Now is the best time to bring to the judge’s attention anything in the plan that you do not agree with. Speak to your lawyer about that subject before this hearing. It is important that you do so because if the judge believes that you are not following through on your obligations or are unable to meet the requirements of the plan that could result in the judge terminating your parental rights later on in the case.
After six months has passed since your child was removed from your home a permanency hearing will be held. The judge will review how your child is adjusting to life outside of your home and will review your service plan and the progress you are making in meeting the goals set out for you in that plan. Permanency hearings occur every four months or so on average, but a judge can decide to hold them closer together if your situation merits that.
CPS will also file their own report as to the status of your case and how things are going for your child and for you. The agency will provide your attorney with a copy of this report before the hearing occurs. You should read this report with your attorney and make sure that you know exactly what is being alleged as to the current status of your case. Sometimes CPS and you may have a very different view of the case. Your lawyer may have an opportunity to respond to the report in writing or may even be able to do so in the permanency hearing.
If the court has appointed a special advocate for your child, a layperson whose job it is to simply observe proceedings and report to the judge, then this person may also file a report with the court. Their report will detail what has been going on in the case and what needs to be done for your child to prosper moving forward. How is your child doing in foster care? How have their grades been in school? How is your child doing overall- is he happy or sad?
The judge will review all the reports and will get an idea of the progress that you are making in meeting the goals of your service plan. Changes can be made to the plan and your child can even be returned to you if you have shown that you have made significant progress in improving the quality of your home-life for your child.
You will usually be made to attend at least two permanency meetings. It very likely will require that you attend two permanency hearings in order to have your child returned to your home. A second permanency hearing will occur approximately ten months from the time that your child is removed from your home. In the event that your child is not returned to you at this hearing, a judge will likely set your case for a final trial in the coming months.
Mediation is a last-ditch opportunity to allow you and the other parties to your CPS case to reach a resolution to the case without having to go to a trial. CPS, you, your attorney and all other parties will meet to speak with an independent mediator about your case to see what issues can be resolved prior to a trial. Mediation can take place over the phone, at a private attorney’s office or even in the courthouse. The judge in your case will not be present for mediation.
Whatever is discussed in mediation cannot be used for or against you in a trial. The reason is that settlement negotiations and other information in mediation is kept confidential, except for any information that relates to unreported claims of abuse or neglect of a child. This information must be disclosed to CPS.
A settlement agreement is reached when any issues can be resolved in mediation. The agreement will be in writing and will be signed by all of the parties to your case. The agreement will become a court order that goes into the record of your case.
In tomorrow’s blog post we will begin our discussion by going over what a final hearing is and how it impacts your CPS case.
Questions about a CPS case? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about a family law case involving CPS please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys are experienced in defending parents against allegations of abuse or neglect in all family courts in southeast Texas. We offer free of charge consultations with our attorneys six days a week where your questions can be answered and your issues addressed in a comfortable, pressure-free environment.