Texas Child Protective Services Assessment Ignores Abuses of Power
AUSTIN, Texas—The Child Protective Services (CPS) Division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS) released the second of two reports that were created as part of an “Operational Assessment” conducted by The Stephens Group (TSG), a consulting firm based out of New Hampshire. The report purports to represent a comprehensive review of the activities, achievements, and challenges facing CPS, but Breitbart Texas’ review of the report has revealed some glaring omissions in the report’s findings. The report has no mention of abuses of power or unwarranted intrusions on the part of the state agency into the parent-child relationships of some Texas families.
The report, posted on the TDFPS website, is more than 200 pages and makes recommendations for areas of improvement. Two key critiques mentioned in the report are a high staff turnover and the fact that “only 26% of CPS field staff’s time is actually spent with children and families.” This means that “nearly three quarters of time frontline workers are on the clock is spent away from individuals they are charged to protect and help.”
TSG’s recommended strategies to improve turnover included expanded training for new employees and a more detailed hiring process to screen for compatibility. Their recommendations for increasing the percentage of time spent with children and families included developing case guide checklists, metrics, "structured decision making processes,” and technology upgrades like improving their data management system and expanding the use of mobile devices.
The report fails to mention a single instance of abuse of power by CPS, despite a significant number of recent media reports about situations where children were improperly taken away from their families without a court order or other constitutional authority to take such action.
As part of an ongoing investigation, Breitbart Texas spoke to a number of family law attorneys across the state who represent clients in CPS matters. The attorneys repeatedly shared stories of cases lingering for months or even years without being dismissed despite no findings of abuse or neglect; field staff reluctant to close files due to pressure from statistics-focused supervisors; hearings continually postponed and rescheduled for no apparent reason; and interference by supervisors who do not have contact with the children, families, social workers, or guardians ad litem, but still make unchallenged and arbitrary decisions that impact the welfare of these families.
While they acknowledge CPS’ role in protecting abused and neglected children, some of the attorneys who spoke with Breitbart Texas also pointed out that absent such abuse or neglect, removing a child from their parents or legal guardians are violations of the rights of all the family members. Many of the attorneys emphasized that before the government removes a child from a home, clear standards of proof must be met and procedures must be followed. They also acknowledged that this is not always what happens.
With rare exception, the attorneys were unwilling to criticize CPS on the record, expressing fear of reprisal against their clients. Even so, a number of troubling cases have come to light regarding abuses of power by CPS, such as the story of Gary and Melissa Gates.
From a report by the Texas Tribune:
It’s been more than a decade since Child Protective Services entered Gary and Melissa Gates’ Houston-area home and removed their two biological kids and 11 adopted ones, following an allegation the pair had emotionally abused one of their children. Within three days, a judge had returned all the children to their parents; within eight months, the child welfare agency had dropped its case.
But the Gateses, along with half a million other people, remain listed in a statewide database of people who mistreat children—a registry that often precludes child care jobs, foster care and their life’s work, adoption.
“From my side of the socioeconomic scale, this is nothing you’d ever think would happen,” said Gary Gates, who has spent “well north of $500,000” trying to get off the registry, and to hold CPS accountable for the trauma he says his family has endured. “The reality is, very few people have the emotional and financial fortitude to fight this.”
…[M]ore than 2,000 people are caught in a backlog of cases awaiting administrative appeals, many with their careers and families hanging in the balance.
…Just a third of alleged perpetrators who appeal to CPS are successful. The others can pursue a review from the State Office of Administrative Hearings — which can take years because of a shortage of lawyers in CPS’s legal division. At the end of 2010, more than 2,100 people were awaiting these reviews. More than 1,000 of them had been waiting for more than a year; nearly 200 had been waiting three or more years.
Simple Google searches turn up countless other stories from families who have been negatively impacted by CPS actions despite committing no wrongdoing.
The possibility that a government agency that has the power to separate children from their parents might be at risk for abusing that power is not contemplated at all by TSG’s report. The report offers detailed recommendations for the purchase of tens of millions of dollars of technology improvements (see page 208), but offers no ideas for safeguards against abuses of power and makes no suggestions to improve the years-long backlog of appeals that has ensnared families like the Gates’ cited above.
Briscoe Cain, a Houston-area attorney, told Breitbart Texas, "I have seen a three year old removed from the home because of a purely innocent fall and a doctor's accusation that the type of break is attributed to abuse. The child was returned only after proving the doctor was wrong and that he misdiagnosed the fracture. You can't undo this kind of harm." He added, "The higher the social status the family has, the less likely CPS is to play out its power struggle."
Breitbart Texas contributor and attorney Lana Shadwick has seen first-hand abuses caused to families and children caught up in the CPS system. A recognized CPS expert who has served as an associate family court judge in Harris County and previously worked for TDFPS in the Office of General Counsel, Shadwick currently represents families and children involved in CPS actions in private practice. In reaction to this report, Shadwick stated, “Protecting children from abuse and neglect is a fundamental responsibility of society, [but] protecting families and their children from unconstitutional overreaching and abuse by government workers is an equally compelling concern.”
Breitbart Texas’ investigation of this matter is ongoing.
Brandon Darby is managing director of Breitbart Texas.
Sarah Rumpf is a political and communications consultant living in Austin.