An unfortunate side effect of the pandemic and our government's response to it has been an increase in occurrences of child abuse. While many of us understand what childhood abuse is, some of you who read this blog post may have questions about that subject. Does this child abuse only cover instances where a child has been hit or otherwise hurt by an adult responsible for their care? Can child abuse cover situations where no physical harm was done to your child? These are relevant questions in light of Texas Families facing too many questions regarding this subject.
The Department of Family and Protective Services investigates reports of abuse or neglect against children. The state of Texas offers online and telephone resources to inform the Department of alleged acts of abuse or neglect against children. Child Protective Services conducts investigations into these reports and determines whether or not a formal investigation will proceed.
Case investigators and caseworkers from CPS work with Texas families every day to investigate these claims and to protect children in the process. If you are facing an investigation by Child Protective Services, then you may have found that the agency is not well equipped or motivated to provide you with information about your case. You may have a fundamental level of understanding regarding the case and even less of an understanding of what can happen with your child about one of these cases. Could your parental rights be terminated as a result of a CPS investigation?
It is normal to have questions regarding one of these cases, but it is not always easy to come across information that answers those questions. Unfortunately, I have worked with many families who have had to go through situations like this, or CPS has become a fixture in their lives for an extended period. Ultimately, what families want is to be treated fairly and know the status of their relationship with their children. That is where an experienced family law attorney like those with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can assist her family like yours.
In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, I would like to share with you some material on CPS investigations as well as the basics of what it investigation covers and how you may become involved with the state regarding a report made about you or a member of your household. In situations involving CPS, I always recommend that they have an attorney available to provide them with assistance when need be. A CPS case is no time to go without help; when do you need it the most.
How does the state of Texas define abuse in conjunction with a CPS investigation?
This seems like the most logical place to start our discussion today. We need to be able to define what abuse is to know whether or not your family will be impacted in any way by CPS in the future. Different people have different assumptions about what child abuse or child neglect is in Texas. If nothing else, we can clear up those misconceptions and provide you with an idea of what child abuse is to apply that to your own life and utilize that information to help protect children in your community.
The Texas family code defines abuse as including certain acts that a person can commit or omissions that could have been done that cover abuse. Right off the bat, we see that mental or emotional injuries to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in that child's growth, development, or psychological functioning are defined as abuse. Immediately we can tell that there does not need to be marked on a child or bruises for a court to find that you have potentially abused your little one. There's an old saying that sometimes most deep scars and bruises can't be seen at all, which is no more true than when it comes to mental or emotional injuries to a child.
Next, if you were to cause or permit your child to be in a situation where the child sustains a mental or emotional injury that results in an observable immaterial impairment in the child's growth, development, or psychological functioning, that is also defined as abuse. Remember, we mentioned a moment ago that an omission counts just as much towards child abuse as an actual act. This is saying that you could have taken a step to protect your child somehow but failed to do so because failure resulted in observable harm to them.
Now we get into actual physical injuries to your child. The Texas family code states that a physical injury to your child that results in substantial harm to the child or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury is counted as abuse in Texas. This would include an injury that varies from the history or explanation and excludes accidents or reasonable discipline. I think if you are a “typical” parent in our community and are likely to run afoul of child abuse laws, then he would be in this regard.
Basically, what the Texas family code states regarding this matter are that if the explanation you gave to law enforcement or Child Protective Services varies with the actual injury sustained by the child, then you may be looking at a child abuse finding against you. For example, let's say that your child was to have suffered a broken arm. Most parents know that children, especially young children are prone to full fractures of the arm from doing something as simple as sliding down the slide wrong are getting twisted while playing with their brother or sister.
If you were to take your child to the hospital and present your child with an injury like this, then that explanation coupled with the actual injury could be chalked up to an accident and not be held against you. However, if you were to grab your child to discipline them and broke her child's arm inadvertently, then you may not be in the same position. This is especially true if you told a false story about how your child was injured in the first place.
Another major area that could affect your family in terms of abuse of your child would be if the state were to determine that you failed to make a reasonable effort to prevent another person from committing an action against your child that results in your child's physical injury or substantial harm. The most common situation that I see people find themselves regarding this subject would be to bring a person into your home as a favor and then have that person cause some degree of harm to your child.
A real-life story that I can tell you is that a client of ours decided to be kind and invite his uncle into his home to live with him and his children for some time. This young man did not consider that his uncle has a criminal history, specifically sexual abuse against children. Our client was in his early 20s, and the acts in question occurred before our client was even born. However, this was a fact that could prove to be quite harmful to the client. It certainly impacted his ability to negotiate in mediation when the time came.
To the best of my knowledge, no incidents ever occur between the man's children and his uncle, but the fact remains that he was setting himself up for a disaster if something did. For that reason, it is advisable to be aware of the people that you bring into your child's life and to make sure that these folks are reputable and safe for your child. Unless necessary, you probably should not have an unrelated person living in your home with you, especially during a child custody or divorce case.
These are the main areas of abuse that I have come into contact with in my time as an attorney. As you can tell, the definition of abuse goes well beyond simply hitting a child. Depending on your circumstances and your disciplinary methods as a parent, you may have even come close to abusing your child in the past and not even known it. Some of what you or I may think of as appropriate discipline for a child may be against the law. For that reason, I recommend you study whatever kind of materials you can from the state as far as what is appropriate and what is not in their estimation. You want to keep your child safe, but you also want to keep these folks out of your life.
How is neglect defined in the Texas family code?
The other situation that may warrant an investigation by Child Protective Services is if alleged acts of neglect have a curd against your child. Neglect isn't even a more fuzzy subject for most of us, seeing as how is she's regarding abuse can surprise us as far as what does and what does not constitute abuse in Texas. For that reason, I'd like to share with you the definitions of neglect so you can be aware of what is in what is not neglectful in your day-to-day life.
I think the most frequently seen instance of child neglect as a family law attorney would be if you were to leave your child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm Without arranging for necessary care for the child. A real-world example of this would be receiving a call from work asking you to come in on short notice. You would have no childcare arranged for your children, but she would either arrange for your oldest child to take care of the younger ones or thought to yourself that you would contact someone to come over and watch the kids on your way to work.
If you have no intent to return to the kids immediately to care for them, then this would technically be an act of neglect. With so many of our work schedules and daily routines thrown off by this pandemic, I could easily see a situation coming up like this for many of us. The key point to make here is that nothing bad has to happen for your child to be found to have been neglected by you. Simply placing your child in a situation where there is a foreseeable risk of harm is enough to cause a finding to be made against you.
Connected to this definition of neglect is placing your child in or failing to remove your child from a situation that a reasonable person would realize requires judgment or actions beyond your child's level of maturity or physical condition. Whether or not a bodily injury occurs does not matter. As long as there is a substantial risk of immediate harm to your child for being put in this type of situation, then you could be facing a neglect finding by Child Protective Services.
For example, you may have left your oldest child in the kitchen while baking cookies to take your younger child to the bathroom. Imagine a scenario where the oven timer dings alerting your oldest child that the cookies were ready to be taken out. If your child were to try and remove the cookies by himself from the oven and was injured, this could be a situation where you were found to neglect your child.
Continuing with this line of thinking, if you subsequently failed to seek, obtain or follow through with medical care for your child, that failure resulted in the substantial risk of injury to them, then you also could be found to have neglected your child. If your child burns his hand after taking the cookies out of the oven and you don't take them to the doctor or hospital to have the burn treated, then you could be found to have neglected your child even if no long-term injury occurred as a result.
How are reports of abuse or neglect made to Child Protective Services?
The city of Texas does not have agency representatives located in every neighborhood in the state. Rather, the state depends upon individuals like you and me to identify instances of possible abuse or neglect and make reports to CPS directly. The state of Texas offers online phone methods of reporting instances of abuse and neglect of children. Once you provide the child's information and a general account of what occurred, Child Protective Services employees will filter your report to the appropriate agency branch located in whatever part of Texas the child resides in.
From there, the agency will determine whether or not abuse or neglect of a child has a curd after conducting a prompt investigation. Depending on how immediate the risk of harm is to your child, the investigation may be launched within 24 hours if there is an immediate risk of harm to your child, or it may launch within 72 hours of a report being made if there is no immediate risk of serious or substantial harm to your child.
The CPS case investigator will determine what type of abuse or neglect Ikerd, if any, and the cause of that abuse or neglect. As a part of their investigation, CPS will determine the names and information of the people responsible for the abuse or neglect and assess your aptitude and ability to prevent further acts of harm from being perpetrated upon your child. As part of a typical CPS investigation, your home will likely be investigated, and a study will be conducted to determine whether or not there are any conditions in the home that may lead to further instances of abuse or neglect.
Keep in mind that these are only the basic parts of an investigation that encompasses abuse or neglect of a child in Texas. When it comes to living life concurrently with a CPS investigation, you need to make sure that your rights and that of your children are being protected. I cannot recommend highly enough consulting with an experienced family law attorney who has defended family successfully in CPS investigations before.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post; 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 in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody lawsuit.