In Texas, if CPS removes your children, sometimes bureaucratic checklists are what determine whether they ever get returned home.

One Texas mother is currently facing the termination of her parental rights due CPS’s allegations that she failed to complete their checklist of services in the manner they preferred. 

At this point in the case, CPS is not alleging any other deficiencies in her fitness as a parent. The Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on September 12. 

The Family Freedom Project and the Texas Association of Family Defense Attorneys have both filed briefs with the court arguing that CPS’s interpretation of the law violates the mother’s parental rights under the United States Constitution. 

After CPS removed the mother’s children, the agency provided a “service plan” outlining a list of services she needed to complete to have her children returned. This is standard practice in CPS cases.

Under Texas law, a parent can have their rights terminated due to their failure to complete these services. This policy is based on the presumption that the services were carefully designed to alleviate some deficiencies in the safety of the home. Often, the services are instead a boilerplate list of tasks for the parent to complete that may or may not have any bearing on the reasons that the children were removed. 

Parents often struggle to complete ill-conceived service plans that don’t match their circumstances, work schedule, or their geographic area of the state. In such situations, a parent who is fully motivated to do everything possible to get their children back may still run into bureaucratic snags due to simple logistics.  

In the case currently before the Texas Supreme Court, the mother was given a checklist of services to complete, including specific provisions related to counseling, parenting classes, and substance abuse treatment. 

The mother experienced difficulties completing these services when she ran into an unexpected obstacle: the refusal of her counselor to continue therapy sessions. 

Eager to regain custody of her children, the mother completed the counseling sessions through another provider instead. CPS responded by arguing that this was not good enough. Instead, CPS claimed that the mother is required to comply with the service plan in every technical respect or face having her parental rights terminated. The case went to trial. 

At trial, the CPS caseworker was specifically asked whether the mother had complied with all of the provisions of the service plan, but just not in the way that CPS had wanted. The caseworker confirmed that this was a fair assessment. 

Even so, the mother’s rights were terminated. The Texas Supreme Court is now reviewing whether her constitutional rights as a parent were violated. The court heard oral arguments in the case on September 12.

While FFP is not representing the mother as an individual in this case, we are deeply involved in advocating for the fundamental right of all parents to raise their children. How the court answers the extremely important question in this case could significantly affect thousands of other families who face similar circumstances. 

On October 2, FFP filed a brief in the case, arguing that the court should strike down the law as unconstitutional or else narrowly interpret it to ensure that technicalities don’t tear families apart. 

The services required by CPS should prioritize addressing substantive issues rather than entangling parents in technicalities that may inadvertently hinder the return of the children.

In this specific case, the mother’s unwavering commitment to fulfilling the service plan is undeniable, but unforeseen circumstances thwarted her. 

As the highest court in Texas, the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX), deliberates on this case, it has an opportunity to provide clarification on the importance of parental rights in these cases. The battle for custody faced by this Texas mother symbolizes the ongoing battle to defend and protect parental rights in the state of Texas.

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