Last spring, THSC’s legislative team in Austin drafted and pushed one of the largest family-oriented Child Protective Services (CPS) reform bills in recent Texas history, the Parent-Child Protection Act.
Homeschoolers have long been on the receiving end of a weaponized CPS system at the hands of government employees or others who disapprove of their homeschooling. This history and THSC’s mission of protecting Texas families placed CPS reform foremost on THSC’s priority list last legislative session.
Despite the myriad of issues needing attention, one in particular caught our eye as being especially egregious, and for good reason.
In Texas, a family can have their children removed and their rights terminated even if the state fails to meet the burden of proof on every single accusation against them.
No, this is not a joke. If the state accuses the parents of a list of accusations and fails to prove any of them, the parents can still be convicted and have their children removed forever.
The problem is a very technical one. In Texas, at least 10 jurors are required to agree on the accusations before the defendant can be found guilty. In CPS cases, CPS often will copy and paste from the Texas Family Code the list of available accusations and accuse the family of all of them, even if they are not applicable.
However, the jurors are not presented with a list of accusations and asked which ones are true and which ones are false. Rather, the court shows them the list of accusations and simply asks, “do you believe that parental rights should be terminated?”
This problem is best illustrated with an example. If CPS accuses a family of 10 different violations (read here about how CPS often includes accusations they know to be false), each of those 10 requires the agreement of at least 10 jurors before the parent can be found guilty.
However, rather than asking the jurors whether they believe each accusation is true or false, the court simply asks one catch-all question: “Do you believe parental rights should be terminated?”
Thus, the court has no way to track whether at least 10 jurors agreed on any of the accusations. Each juror can believe a different accusation and think that the other accusations are ridiculous—but all will still vote in favor of termination.
During the 2017 legislative session, THSC filed legislation to abolish this practice and require that jurors be asked their opinion on each separate accusation to determine whether at least 10 jurors agree on any one issue. We were contacted by the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission about this issue.
The Children’s Commission requested that we withdraw the legislation and promised that they would host a task-force to study the issue and recommend to the Texas Supreme Court that the issue be fixed by rule. We agreed and withdrew the legislation.
After the end of the legislative session, a task-force was created to study the issue and draft recommendations. On November 27, the task-force completed its report and released its recommendations.
In summary, the report recommend completely abolishing the current practices for how questions are presented to the jury in CPS termination cases and is pushing for the reforms THSC originally fought for during the 2017 legislative session.
If adopted by the Texas Supreme Court, the reforms would require that each juror answer separate questions about each accusation made against each parent. This change would completely eliminate the current problem of families being torn apart, even if the jury never agreed on anything that was done wrong.
THSC worked extensively with the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission during the 2017 legislative session and has continued to do so on several major CPS issues during the interim.
A change of this magnitude in the rules of civil procedure would be a huge win for Texas families!
THSC is already working on researching and preparing for the 2019 legislative session to protect Texas families. Make sure you sign up for updates to stay abreast of the latest important issues to protect children and their parents. Let’s continue to fight for Keeping Texas Families Free!