If your child is removed from your home in conjunction with a Child Protective Services case, it likely the state agency will still want your child to be returned to your home at the end of your case. In the alternative, the state may have a relative or other adult in mind with which they want your child placed on a permanent basis at the conclusion of your case. Whatever the circumstances may be, there are requirements that Department of Family and Protective Services as well as your court must follow under the law in regard to this plan.
A permanency progress report will need to be filed no later than the tenth day before the date set for each permanency hearing that is held in your case. This report must be made available to you, the attorney ad litem for your child, the guardian ad litem for your child as well as any court appointed special advocate.
The progress report must contain information that is necessary for the judge to be able to conduct the permanency hearing. This is the most important part of the progress report. It needs to show what progress, or lack of progress, has been made so the judge can make decisions in a hearing that are in the best interests of your child.
There are specific findings that a judge must be able to make in a permanency hearing. Primarily, a judge must determine whether or not the Department of Family and Protective Services is able to place your child with a relative or other caregiver and what evidence exists to support that decision either way.
As far as you are concerned, the judge must also state whether or not returning your child to your home is safe, appropriate and in the best interests of your child. A determination needs to be made at this hearing whether to return your child to you based on if you are willing and able to provide your child with a safe environment. In the alternative, an estimation for the likely date by which your child could be returned to your home, placed for adoption or placed into another permanent living situation outside your house will need to be specified.
A review of your progress in the temporary orders and service plan
Another important part of the permanency hearing is to allow a judge to review how compliant you have been in regard go the temporary orders that were issued at the beginning of your case as well as with the serviced plan created by you and the state. There had to have been some factors present in your home that caused the removal of your child in the first place. A court will look at what actions you have taken to eliminate or at least mitigate the future threat of harm from those factors.
A lot of times this could mean having persons that were residing in your home being told that they need to leave the home immediately. It could also be that there were dangerous conditions in your home that needed to be fixed and have now been taken care of. Be sure to let your attorney know of any positive steps that you have taken to alleviate the problems identified earlier in your case.
The permanency progress report created by the Department of Family and Protective Services will also be examined by the judge in this hearing. The safety and well-being of your child will be looked at very closely. Whether your child’s needs are being addressed by the permanency plan will be especially important.
As far as your child not currently residing in your home is concerned, the continued need for him or her residing outside of your home will also be looked at. If it is no longer appropriate for your child to be in the temporary custody of the Department, then the judge can make that decision. The key to making this decision for the judge will be determining what is in the best interests of the child.
Finally, a deadline by which your case must be dismissed by will be determined by the judge. A trial date will also be set for your case.
What considerations need be made specific to your child?
Your child will need to attend any and all permanency hearings that are held unless the judge specifically excuses their absence. If your child is over the age of four and if the court believes it to be in your child’s best interests, the judge will meet with your child and speak to him or her about the permanency plan that is created. Obviously, consideration will need to be given to the age and maturity of your child. The same discussion will not be had with a four-year-old that the judge would have with a fourteen-year-old.
Ensuring the involvement of your child in the permanency plan process is likely to be a challenge for your court. The Texas Family Code specifically states that your child will have to attend any permanency hearings held in their case. It is the duty of the judge, your child’s attorney and the Department of Family and Protective Services to meet with your child before these hearings are held. However, it is my experience that the children in a case like this typically do not feel like they are involved enough or that their voices are heard.
What is appropriate for your child based on their age?
Age appropriate activities are mandated by the Texas Family Code in relation to your child and the creation of a permanency plan. Your child should be involved in the process to an extent that is suitable for their age or maturity level. Your child’s life does not need to be put on hold during the Child Protective Services case. He or she may be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, employment opportunities and other activities depending on the circumstances of your case.
The Department has a duty to do their best to ensure that your child is able to lead as normal of a life as possible, despite their involvement in a child custody case. The adult with whom your child is residing during the case will make decisions what is and what is not appropriate for your child and will use the same thought processes to arrive at decisions as you or your spouse would.
How will the Department of Family and Protective Services make decisions regarding placement of your child?
The Texas Family Code mandates that the Department consult with your child’s caseworker, their attorney ad litem, guardian ad litem and any other court appointed volunteer advocate when making decisions on where your child should be placed on a permanent basis.
If your child is over the age of fourteen the judge will work to ensure that there are services in place for him or her that will assist the child in transitioning from assisted care to independent living in their adult life.
Do you have concerns about your child’s medical condition or treatment that they have received?
Your child may have a medical condition that is impactful on their life. If you have concerns about their well-being while your child is living outside of your home I would like to share some information with you about what requirements are in place to ensure that information is shared with the judge at each hearing in relation to their medical care.
At each hearing held in your case, the judge will need to review a summary of the medical care that your child has received while in the temporary care of the Department of Family and Protective Services. Details about emergency medical care and the diagnoses of conditions for your child are especially important in this regard. Here is what the summary that the judge reads must include:
-the kind of emergency medical treatment that your child received and the reasons why the care was necessary. If your child suffered an injury or suffered a one-time illness then that information will be disclosed in open court
-any medical or mental health treatment received by your child will be disclosed, as well as the progress that your child is making with this treatment
-any information on medication that is being prescribed to your child, the condition that necessitated that these medications be administered and the symptoms that are relevant
What is a best interest determination in the context of a Child Protective Services case?
You have seen me use the phrase “best interests of your child” many times in the past few days while discussing your Child Protective Services case. The bottom line is that for every decision the Department of Family and Protective Services as well as the judge make, those decisions need to be made with the best interests of your child in mind. However, now we will discuss in detail what it means to make a decision that is in the best interests of your child.
First of all, it is presumed that the prompt and permanent placement of your child in a safe environment is in their best interest. In arriving at a decision that is in the best interests of your child, the judge will consider factors like your child’s age, their physical/mental vulnerabilities, the frequency and nature of their out of home placements, the circumstances that led to harm suffered by your child any medical conditions relevant to your child.
Your and your spouse’s ability to parent is key to this discussion. Whether or not your family demonstrates a baseline degree of parenting skills sufficient to provide your child with basic health and nutritional care, a nurturing family environment, guidance and supervision to avoid potentially harmful situations.
A safe home environment is the most important part of this discussion. Are you doing what is necessary to keep your home in good repair where there are not conditions that could lead to an injury? If your child has a disability have you taken that into consideration when doing renovations or upkeep? These are relevant considerations to make.
On the other hand, is your house a safe environment for your child from the perspective of the people that are allowed to live with you? I had a case recently here in the Houston area where our client was living in a home with his extended family and his children. Part of that extended family was an uncle who is a convicted sex offender. I became aware of this prior to an important hearing in his case. I made it clear to our client that his uncle could no longer reside anywhere near to his kids if he wanted to be a part of their life and have the kids in his home. It’s that simple.
Finally, the support network that you have established for yourself will be examined. How well are you able to rely on your family and close friends during difficult times? How frequently does your family care for your children? More importantly, how well do they care for your children?
Interested in learning more about medical care in conjunction with a CPS case? Come back to our blog tomorrow
If you are interested in learning more about CPS investigations, please come back to our blog tomorrow. I can tell you from experience that parents who are in the dark as far as matters related to CPS are concerned are some of the most anxiety filled parents in any type of family law case. CPS will do little to keep you to teach you about the process. It is up to you to learn on your own how these cases work.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about Texas family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where your questions can be answered and issues addressed directly.