CPS: Can they take my kids?

I consider myself fortunate to devote hundreds of hours every year to appointments in East Texas counties as the Ad Litem Attorney for children in CPS cases. I am always amazed at how little families know about the process in general, the rights of the state, the rights of the children and the rights of the parents. We often joke casually about corporal punishment and CPS “taking our children”, but the state’s interest in protecting children is no laughing matter.


What should I expect at court?


When children have been abused or neglected or are at risk of abuse or neglect, a judge may decide to put them in foster care to protect them. CPS may go to court to remove children from their homes if it believes children have been abused or neglected or are at risk of future abuses or neglect and they need to be removed from their parent(s) for their protection.


You should always go to court when you get a legal notice or a phone call saying that there will be a hearing about your child. It is your right as a parent to be at the hearing. The judge may think you do not care about your child if you do not appear at court hearings. Even though you may not be required to go to court, one way to show that you are concerned about your child’s future is to attend the court hearings.


Do I need an attorney?


You can come to court without an attorney and still be heard. An attorney can explain things to you that are not clear and can make sure the judge understands how you feel and what you want. You can hire an attorney at your own expense or the court must appoint an attorney for you if you cannot afford one. The court decides if you can afford to hire your own attorney. The court also appoints a special attorney for your child since children cannot make legal decisions for themselves. The child’s attorney is an attorney ad litem, this lawyer represents your child’s desires and/or best interest in court. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem for your child, sometimes known as CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in order to represent your child’s best interests.


What hearings will occur when CPS becomes involved?


Emergency/Show Cause hearings: If your child is removed from your care without a court order, the court will schedule a hearing for the next working day. This hearing allows the judge to learn why your child was removed from his or her home and to decide if there is a good reason to keep your child in care until the adversary hearing (see below). If the judge decides your child may be in danger while in your care, your child may remain in foster care for the time being. CPS may instead ask a judge for a court order before removing a child from a home when there’s significant risk of abuse or neglect but the current circumstances are not an emergency.


Adversary hearings: The court holds an adversary hearing within 14 days of your child being removed from your care. At this hearing, the judge decides whether to return your child to you or if your child would still be at risk of continued abuse or neglect in your care. If the judge does not return your child to your care, he or she may decide to place your child with a relative or close family friend if they are appropriate, available, and willing to help. Otherwise, your child will stay in foster care. The adversary hearing is your chance to present your view of what happened and how your child can be protected now.


Status hearings: The court holds a status hearing within 60 days of your child’s placement in foster care. The purpose of this hearing is to make sure you have a family service plan and understand that following that plan is a way for your child to return home. This hearing also ensures each parent has been notified of the legal suit.


Permanency Court Reviews: About five months after the first adversary hearing, the court will review your progress on meeting the requirements of court orders and the family service plan. Before the hearing, CPS must submit a permanency report. This report includes CPS’ view of your progress and a final recommendation on a plan for a permanent place for your child to live.


Court Resolution:  Within 12 months of giving CPS temporary legal responsibility (temporary managing conservatorship) for a child, the court will either return your child to you or give permanent custody to a relative, a close family friend, or to CPS. On rare occasions, the court may extend the 12 month deadline for up to six more months. The court may terminate your parental rights if it has legal grounds to do so and decides that is what is best for the child.


Remember, you can lose your parental rights if you do not carry out your parental responsibilities while your child is in CPS care. This may happen if you don’t stay in touch with your child and CPS to plan for your child’s future, fail to pay child support, or don’t follow the service plan developed for your family. You can also lose parental rights if you have a mental or emotional illness or mental deficiency that makes you unable to meet the physical, emotional, and mental health needs of your child and if this illness or deficiency will continue to make you unable to meet your child’s needs until their 18th birthday. Only judges or juries can take away your rights as a parent without your agreement. They can do this only during a court hearing. If the judge or jury ends your rights to your child, you are no longer the child’s legal parent.

[1] A Parent’s Guide to a Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigation, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.