The State of Texas can terminate your rights as a parent even if you did not do anything to put your child in actual danger. This harsh reality is something that most people in Texas are entirely unaware of.
“Child endangerment” is a term nobody ever wants to hear used against them. But in Texas, a parent can have their children removed and their rights terminated even if this “endangerment” never actually placed their child in danger.
This bizarre state of affairs is caused by how CPS and various courts have long interpreted Texas’ endangerment laws.
In a recent hearing in a case (In the Interest of R.R.A., H.G.A., H.B.A.) currently before the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX), Counsel for the TX Department of Family & Protective Services stated, “[The parent’s behavior] can be endangerment even if it doesn’t impair the parent’s ability to care for the children in the immediate moment.”
For many years, CPS and various courts have interpreted the Texas Family Code to allow for the termination of parental rights based on conduct that may be generally “dangerous” but which may not be presenting any actual danger to the specific child involved.
This broad interpretation of “endangerment” increases the risk of wrongful parental rights terminations. Family Freedom Project has filed a brief in the case urging the court to require that any finding of “endangerment” be linked to an actual risk of harm to the parent’s actual child, not just a theoretical risk of harm to a theoretical child.
A Closer Look
CPS has often treated certain conduct as de facto harm to a child even if no harm occurred and no specific risk was posed to the parent’s actual child. As seen in this case, CPS contends that any drug use, regardless of its impact on the children’s safety or well-being, justifies automatic parental rights termination. Thus, whether a parent became addicted to prescription drugs by accident or whether they run a neighborhood drug ring may be seen as the same in the eyes of the law.
We contend that, to terminate a parent’s rights—rights granted by God and protected as fundamental under the US Constitution—CPS must establish the specific circumstances of danger that necessitate such action.
A theoretical risk of harm to a theoretical child is not enough. When CPS removes a child from their home, the harm done to that child is not theoretical. That harm is tangible and often lifelong. When considering whether to remove a child from their home, then, CPS should be required to prove an actual risk of harm to the child.
The Texas Family Code should not be loosely interpreted but should instead serve as a clear framework for safeguarding children from actual danger. This can be done by requiring the state to prove that its intervention in the parent-child relationship is necessary to protect the child from significant harm. However, CPS has frequently argued that certain behaviors automatically warrant parental termination, even without concrete evidence of direct harm or immediate danger to the children.
The essence of this debate lies in the constitutional presumption that parents act in the best interests of their children.
Before terminating parental rights, the state must prove that the parent’s actions have directly harmed the child or placed them in imminent danger.
The Role of the Family Freedom Project
We aim to assert, as a matter of constitutional principle, that CPS must be compelled to establish a direct link between the parent’s actions and actual threat of harm to the specific children involved, rather than relying on theoretical harm that may result to a theoretical child.
In another case currently before the Texas Supreme Court, we are striving to establish that proof of harm to the specific child should be a universal, constitutional prerequisite before a court can override the presumption that a parent is acting in their child’s best interests. If established, this precedent would further safeguard the rights of parents and families in Texas.