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Child Neglect in Texas: Preparing for a CPS case

Picture this: your one-year-old child is just starting to walk and has toddled into the kitchen looking for a snack. You look down at her and smile and begin to walk towards the cupboard to pull out some cheese crackers for her to eat while you prepare dinner. It could be any day of the week, nothing exciting or noteworthy to see here. However, all of that begins to change when your 4-year-old son calls your name and asks for help in his bedroom. You remember that recently he started drawing on the walls with markers, so you immediately jump two an alert level and going to see what he is doing.

That is when you hear a cry in the kitchen to find your one-year-old daughter with a large mark on her forehead that is quickly turning red. She is bawling her eyes out, and you can see that she reached up to grab the box Gov cheese it crackers only to have them fall on her head. Anybody reading this who is a parent knows that this is a very realistic scenario that could play out in your life or mine. We take our eyes away from our little ones for one second, and something bad can happen. Fortunately, the vast majority of the time, disaster is averted. Just imagine if your little one had pulled down our hot pot from the stove instead of a box of crackers. That red mark on her forehead may have become permanent burns or lead to something even worse.

I realize that this image may be one that you would do everything you could to avoid. However, I would tell you that the chances of something happening to your child due to your not being near them 24 hours a day is relatively high. Most of the time, the things that happen to our children are pretty benign. Things like scraped knees and hurt feelings are relatively normal or occurrences for any little kid. The difficult part about being a parent is that we cannot always anticipate what will happen to our children when placed into a specific circumstance. We can do our best to manage risk, but we cannot predict the future.

Sometimes an action or inaction of ours can lead to harmful effects for our children. We are all guilty of the failure to supervise our kids, if but for a brief moment. I challenge any parent to tell me that they have never slipped up and let their child get out of their sight for a moment during a busy day. No matter how much we love our kids, it is simply unreasonable to expect that every moment of your child's day could be spent with you supervising them. It is these oftentimes brief moments of unsupervised behavior that can lead to bad results for a child.

This is where the normal world of parenting intersects with the world of a potential Child Protective Services case. On behalf of the Department of Family and Protective Services, CPS investigates alleged incidents involving abuse or neglect of children. These reports come into CPS either through an anonymous telephone hotline or by electronic means. All adults in Texas must report incidents of abuse or neglect that they believe have occurred about a child. Certain professions, doctors, attorneys, teachers, and others, have a heightened burden to do so as licensed individuals through the state of Texas.

Something as relatively small as leaving your child unattended in the kitchen could potentially land you amid a CPS case. No, I am not telling you that CPS has employees staked out in your living room to watch your every move but what I am telling you is that brief or momentary lapses in judgment or supervision can lead at least to a report being made against you regarding neglect if your child. Before we go any further with today's blog post, I would like to take some time and look at how neglect is defined legally in the state of Texas. After all, we can dance around the subject, and I can give you general confines of what makes like may look like, but in actuality, you have no way of properly beginning a thorough discussion on this subject unless we can define it.

Neglect is defined in the Texas family code.

Any practicing family law attorney is familiar with the statutes contained in the Texas family code. The Texas family code is the Bible of the family law practitioner. Whether the case involves a divorce, a child custody matter regarding grandparents' rights, or a Child Protective Services case, the Texas family code contains legal definitions and statutes applied as law throughout the family courts of Texas. Within that code, we will find the definitions for neglect as they are applied in the context of a Child Protective Services case.

To begin with, neglectful supervision means that a parent has improperly supervised a child by leaving them alone. By doing so, the act of leaving that child alone could have resulted in substantial harm to the child. Medical neglect is another type of neglect as defined in Texas. Medical neglect is the failure to seek, obtain, or administer a medical treatment that could result in substantial harm to your child. On the other hand, physical neglect is the failure to provide a child with the necessary food, clothing, and shelter to maintain a healthy life. Finally, I would point your attention towards abandonment and refusal to accept parental responsibility as the final type of neglect of a child in Texas. This is where a parent or caregiver has left a child in a potentially harmful situation and did not plan to return for the child.

If you were to become involved in a Texas Child Protective Services case involving your child, then you need to be aware of the different definitions of neglect and how each could play into your case. Neglect is more broadly defined than simply leaving your child unattended in a situation where they could get hurt. Judging from the definitions of neglect, this is a circumstance that fits the bill, but it is far from the only instance where you could be accused of having neglected your child. Just as important as placing your child into a potentially dangerous circumstance is the actual threat level of harm presented to your child.

If you find yourself staring down a barrel of a Child Protective Services case, you need to seek legal representation as quickly as possible. An attorney will understand the definitions of neglect and help walk you through the circumstance that led to accusations being made against you. Depending on the specifics of those circumstances, the action that you took or failed to take may not even rise to the level of neglect as defined in the Texas family code. If that is the case, you may be able to have your CPS case dismissed either for lack of evidence or for simply failing to meet the various definitions of neglect previously stated.

When will a permanent plan for your child be worked out during the CPS case?

Now that we know how the state of Texas and Child Protective Services will approach the neglect question, we now have to ask ourselves what does this means for you in a CPS investigation? How will you be able to defend yourself from having your child removed from your home or even from having your parental rights terminated? I can't think of a more relevant or more stressful question to ask yourself. However, as I will tell people on a pretty regular basis, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound's worth of cure. Meaning: if you can consider this question ahead of time, you will be better off should you find yourself in a position where your parental rights may be terminated due to a neglectful act or inaction you took regarding your child.

At the beginning of a CPS case, you will be allowed to attend multiple hearings with CPS and the judge in your case. These hearings are known as the initial hearing and the status hearing. The initial hearing will allow you and the city of Texas to both present evidence as to why an investigation should continue and why your child should or should not remain outside of your home for the duration of that investigation. If the judge determines that it is not in your child's best interests to remain outside of your home, they can order your child to return to you if removal has already occurred.

The status hearing occurs approximately 60 days after your child is removed from your home. At that point, the court will check in with you to see how you are doing in completing your service or safety plan steps. These steps could include things as simple as fixing defects in your home that may have led to your injury of your child's or attending counseling or therapy sessions to help you manage alcohol addiction. Consider how relatively easy it would be to leave your child unattended if you are consistently under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Maintaining sobriety alone could be enough for you, too, and a CPS case and have your child returned home to you.

The gap between a status hearing in the next hearing in your CPS case is a long one. Approximately four months after the status hearing will be a permanency hearing. This takes place about six months after the removal of your child from your home. This is the hearing where the judge will look at the progress you have made in completing the plan of service. The judge in your case will also look at how your child has done outside of your home and whether or not his needs are being met in their current residence. Depending on your child's age, their wishes regarding being returned to your home may also be considered.

Keep in mind that the Department of Family and Protective Services is duty-bound to try and place your child with a family member or friend of yours instead of with a foster family. For this reason, you should have provided friends or family members to your attorney so that that information could be provided to Child Protective Services. If one of these persons is the viable candidate for placement in your child, you can remain with them on an extended basis throughout this case. Overall, the goal of any permanency hearing held in your CPS case will be to decide whether or not it is feasible to have your child returned home to you.

After any permanency hearing or any court appearance for that matter, a written order will be prepared for you in your family. These orders are not suggestions or generalized ideas for you to consider in your case. They are commands from a judge that you must comply with to put yourself in a position for your child to be reunited with you. Keep in mind that if you do not comply, your parental rights may be terminated as a result. With this in mind, you need to request copies of any orders made during a hearing with a judge. It is not an excuse for you to say that you didn't follow an order because you did not have a copy of it with you.

Once an order is prepared and made available to you, the next thing you should do is sit down with your attorney and walk through what is required of you both on a short and long-term basis. Sometimes, you will be required to attend counseling or other classes requiring you to submit proof of attendance periodically to the CPS caseworker or investigator. Getting behind the ball early in this process can be incredibly harmful to your case. You need to hit the ground running to complete any counseling or therapy that may be required of you. Meeting with your attorney about this is a great idea once the order is prepared.

How to prepare for a CPS case involving neglect of your child

It would help if you now had a basic understanding of not only how the state of Texas defines neglect but how you could come to find yourself involved in a CPS case. Just because you find yourself coming into contact with CPS and a case investigator does not mean that your child will necessarily be removed from your own or that your parental rights will be terminated. I see these results as being last-ditch efforts to keep your child safe that typically occur only in fairly extreme circumstances. Depending on the specific allegations and evidence against you, the thought may not even cross the mind of a CPS caseworker to have your child removed from your home.

What you can and should do about your CPS cases is to get a handle on where your case is going and what goals you have regarding the case itself. If your child is removed from your home, your primary goal should be unification with your child. The next goal should be to complete any Service plan outlined in a court order or merely with the CPS caseworker outside of court. Finally, your goal should be the closure of any CPS case and a finding that no wrongdoing has occurred.

The best way for you to be prepared for a situation involving CPS is to plan out your goals and to lay out a concrete plan for achieving those goals. From my experience, I would tell you that it is challenging to do so without the assistance of an experienced family law attorney who focuses on Child Protective Services cases. Defending yourself against allegations of any kind is tough. Defending yourself against allegations of child neglect is especially tough. That reason, you should interview and hire an experienced family law attorney to help guide you through this process and to hold CPS accountable wherever possible.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about anything that we discussed 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. We invite you to talk with one of our lawyers about how we can best serve you and your family in whatever circumstance you find yourself in the world of Texas family law.

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