Texas House passes bill to keep more kids out of foster care

FILE - Children playing with toys (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Children playing with toys (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Lawmakers have only three weeks to get through a number of fix-it bills that are designed to overhaul the state’s struggling Child Protective Services system.

The Texas House passed House Bill 7 Monday, which aims to keep more kids with their biological parents and out of foster care. Unlike the bills passed in previous sessions that focus on state funding and the services CPS provides, HB 7 focuses on the court process.

“This is a critical time in a CPS case where a child has been removed and we’re trying to decide whether or not we should terminate parental rights or not,” said State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston. An attorney, Wu is appointed by the courts to represent children in the CPS system.

Wu said, “CPS often plays it a little too carefully, they’d rather remove than take the risk that something may happen.” That’s why he wrote HB 7. “Some of those families they just need a little help, they need a little supervision, they need a little hand-holding but we don’t need to take those kids out of the home,” Wu said.

The bill would add parental protections to ensure children aren’t put into foster care because a family is poor or homeschooling. Wu said he often sees flaws in the court system in cases where a parent has been accused of drug use.

“But there is no specification or there’s no, ‘it was used recently’ or anything like that but at some point there was an allegation,” Wu said. In that type of situation, Wu explained, CPS would come in and the court would order the parent to go get help.

“Take a couple classes and go pee in a cup in a couple months and as long as you’re not positive again, we’re good,” Wu said. The executive director of the Citizens Commission of Human Rights in Texas, Lee Spiller, is concerned the bill could roll back the state’s current informed consent law.

“We see this as a step backward,” Spiller said. He explained HB 7 could allow doctors to make recommendations on a parent or child’s medical or mental health care in court, without being questioned or cross examined.

“And they are doing it without having to explain the benefits, risks, or alternatives of a treatment,” Spiller said. Under the proposal, the Department of Family and Protective Services would continue to work with parents but if behavioral changes aren’t made, the court could restrict or terminate parental rights.

The House is set to take up part two of Rep. Wu’s proposal to reform CPS. House Bill 39 focuses on state funding and the services CPS provides.

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