New laws to impact Texas CPS program

Posted at 5:28 PM, Jul 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-01 11:23:08-04

HARKER HEIGHTS, Texas — Earlier this month, Harker Heights mother Leah Joseph shared her story with 25 News after her son died while in Child Protective Services custody.

An anonymous tip to CPS about abuse and drug use lead to Joseph's children being taken away in September of last year. Despite her lawyer saying she passed six drug tests and the children showed no signs of abuse, the kids spent roughly six weeks in a foster home where her two-year-old passed away from a respiratory illness.

While CPS was unable to comment due to the active investigation, child protection advocates say a new law going into effect in September could've changed this whole situation.

"The most unreliable reports by far, the kind that are almost never true, are the ones called in anonymously," Richard Wexlar with the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform told 25 News.

A new law in Texas would change how people can call in child abuse. HB 60 would allow for confidential reporting, where the child and family still don't know who calls it in but it's not completely anonymous.

"They are confidential reports," Wexlar said.

"Child Protective Services knows so they can ask more questions, they can call back, they can see what's behind this report to see if it's legitimate."

It's just one of the many changes coming to the state's child protective services.

HB 730 would require families are given a Miranda-warning style read out of their rights before CPS enters their home.

SB 2120 creates a "Contract Defender Program" which would pair low-income parents with publicly funded private attorneys.

HB 1087 would require judges to document the reasonable attempts at preventing removing a child from their homes.

"The new laws are the first steps in the direction of making children safe," Wexlar said.

"Those are important steps, they're just baby steps along the way of what needs to happen," said Alan Detlaff, co-founder of the upEND movement.

The upEnd movement started in Houston and has pushed for the state to adopt a more community-based child protection service statewide.

"What I would like to see is a system where families and communities have more responsibility of taking care of their own," Detlaff said.

According to the Children's Bureau, 62 percent of the children taken away from home is due to neglect. This is defined in the foster system as going without basic needs, lack of food or medical care.

"Children who are living in poverty, children whose parents are struggling to meet their needs," Detlaff said.

"Taking those children away from their parents is not help."

Children who grow up in the foster system are at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety and ending up in juvenile detention.

Detlaff said children who do not have a safety risk, such as abuse or assault, could benefit more from a community-based system.

"Think of your family, larger extended family, network of people you care about and imagine a child is harmed," Detlaff said.

"What would you want to happen? Would you want to get together and decide as a family, as a community and a figure out what should happen to protect that child from harm? Or would you want the government to take that child away from you and figure it out for them?"

Certain regions of Texas have already made the switch to a community-based system and Waco's area is next in line.

The goal is to move to community care by 2025. Last month, Kansas-based Saint Francis Ministries visited the area to share their vision.

The group is already working with foster cares in other parts of Texas, including Lubbock. They say it's been going well so far and they're hopeful to continue their work in Waco.

"We are really looking forward to see how the Waco area responds, how that area responds," Cristian Garcia with the ministries said.

"A community driven system is really about the community taking over what's theirs to begin with and us just being there to support that."

The new system would put a private contractor in charge of placement and take that responsibility away from the state.