If anyone knows how overworked Texas’ Child Protective Services is, and how the inefficiently-run agency can harm families, it’s state Rep. Gary Gates.
The Richmond businessman had a run-in with CPS back in the early 2000s, but successfully fended off allegations of child abuse and neglect.
Now a state representative, the real estate mogul filed three House bills this legislative session that deal with improving CPS and ensuring families have recourse to address child abuse charges they face.
Gates’ bills are among at least 17 bills involving the CPS that are working their way through the legislature this session.
Gates filed House Bills 1098, 1204 and 1700.
Of the 41 bills Gates filed this session, HB 1098 would amend the family code to improve CPS’s operations by reducing the amount of untrue allegations the department investigates each year.
Gates said CPS receives hundreds of thousands of calls of child neglect and abuse each year, and of those only 150,000 are investigated and sent to law enforcement and advocacy centers for follow-up.
“Right now CPS spends a lot of time investigating calls that turn out not to be child abuse or neglect,” Gates explained to The Herald. “Anonymous calls resulted in the largest number of those false findings.”
For every one case that turns out to be a case of abuse and neglect, CPS wastes time on 12 others that turn out to be false, Gates said.
“There are limited dollars for CPS’s use,” he said, adding that those dollars should be used investigating allegations that have merit.
HB 1098 would require the person making the report to include the facts that caused them to believe the child has been neglected or abused and the source of the information, the informant’s name and telephone number, home address, and other identifying information.
The bill would also require the CPS to note if the call came in anonymously through a toll-free telephone number operated by the department. If the informant is unwilling to give their name and identifying information, CPS would have to notify them that it cannot accept an anonymous report of child abuse and neglect under HB 1098.
In addition, if the report is being made orally, the informant must be notified that the allegations are being recorded, that making a false report is a criminal offense punishable by jail time.
HB 1098 also would require authorities to make a preliminary investigation to determine whether there is any evidence to support the allegations, but a law enforcement officer may not accompany the CPS representative on a visit to the child’s home during the preliminary investigation.
HB 1098 also would prohibit CPS agents from visiting the child’s home without the parent’s consent or interviewing the child or child’s parents or examine the child unless the agent obtains written consent from the child’s parents. In addition, HB 1098 would prohibit CPS agents from interviewing people through coercion and duress or threaten or coerce a parent to consent to an interview or examination or threaten to contact law enforcement if they don’t cooperate.
Furthermore, HB 1098 would prohibit the CPS from separating the child from the parents and the examination of the child may only be visible. The CPS representative may not touch or disrobe the child during the examination.
Gates, who was appointed to the House committees on appropriations and urban affairs, also filed HB 1700, which 1700 would amend the family code to allow parents to have an attorney interview the child at least 72 hours before any hearing scheduled to determine whether the child had been abused and neglected, as well as allow parents to have a doctor examine the child in order to challenge the findings of the state and its medical experts.
The examination may be recorded and include medical, dental, educational, developmental, psychological, or psychiatric evaluations and assessments.
House Bill 1204 would prohibit CPS from adding a parent’s name to the central registry of offenders unless the department’s finding is sustained by an administrative law judge at an administrative hearing before the State Office of Administration Hearings, or unless the parent has been convicted in a civil or criminal court of child abuse or neglect.
The bill calls for CPS to give the parent notice the department intends to add their name to the registry, and the notice must include the specific allegation, name of the alleged victim, the injury or harm alleged to have been done to the victim, and the date the report of abuse and neglect was alleged to have occurred.
The bill also requires parents to be notified well in advance of the hearing to add their name to the registry, allow them to have an attorney present at the hearing or provide them an attorney if they are indigent, and provide all evidence against them.
The parents' name would be removed from the registry once the alleged victim turns 18 or on the 10th anniversary, the alleged abuse occurred.
“House Bill 1204 is mostly about due process,” Gates explained. “Currently, there is no due process for parents accused of child abuse and neglect.”