CPS is the cause du jour of this legislative session. In January, Governor Abbott identified CPS as one of the four emergency items for this session. CPS is one of those stories that begins with good intentions and ends with really big authoritarian government. These are the bills under consideration; SB11, HB 914, HB6, HB4.
Let me start by saying I am 55 years old and going on 56. When I was growing up, my parents expected me to be out of the house after breakfast and my brother and I usually return home after the sun went down.
As kids growing up in the 60’s and 70’s we lit huge fires and burned ourselves more than once. We had BB gun wars with the neighborhood kids, threw rocks at each other, hit golf balls at each other, and climbed anything that presented a challenge. We thought nothing of it. I have been kicked, thrown, and stepped on by a horse. My twin brother and I were fortunate that our grandfather owned a gun club. We were popular because of the gun club and it is a wonder that we all escaped alive.
My poor mother still tells the story about how I showed up one afternoon after hunting with my twin brother. My face was covered with blood. When my mother asked what happened to my face, I made the mistake of telling her that my brother shot me during our hunt. The look on her face scared me.
Although I could not see the blood on me, I could taste it and the salt in my blood was stinging my eyes. This was my immediate concern. My mom had other thoughts.
I quickly told my mother that a dove had flown in front of one of the oil storage tanks when my brother pulled the trigger. The shot ricocheted between the two tanks and hit me in the face. Somehow, at that moment, I thought this explanation was going to help his plight, our plight – it didn’t. Our guns were taken away for a whole two weeks, a lifetime at that age – oh, the humanity! These were the first world problems of my youth.
We were on a first name basis with all the emergency room staff at Methodist. They knew the Hooper twins well. As the doctor picked shot out of my face, I had plenty of time for a lecture on irresponsibility. All the doctors got to know my brother and me because my dad worked in the medical center. I remember a doctor telling me that he was going to install zippers on the knees of my jeans because of all the times he stitched them up. There was never a thought from any emergency room physician back then to call any authority. Now, it is against the law to NOT call CPS – think about that for a second.
The government keeps losing children. More correctly, CPS keeps losing children. I know Greg Abbott thinks CPS needs more funding; but, throwing money at a problematic agency will not prevent children from getting hurt. CPS is broken. The agency’s mission seems to be stopping kids from getting hurt; but, this is impossible. Being a kid is dangerous – always has, always will. Kids get hurt and sometimes they get killed doing stupid things. We used to call these stupid things accidents. Now, we call CPS.
CPS abuses are legendary and have become part of the political mainstay. CPS is a very dysfunctional organization and their attempt to serve as the parenting police has been a disaster. Exes and their kids use the system for their own purposes. True allegations and occurrences are sometimes lost in the crowd.
I serve on the board of a non-profit that provides legal services to the indigent. This week, a woman tested positive for drugs when her baby was born. CPS took her baby, and told her they would remove her three other children. Mom did not live with the father and the dad was not informed of the removal. Dad has never had a drug issue and owns a home of his own. This scenario is not uncommon. CPS made no attempt to place the children with their dad and he was forced to go to court to get his children back.
The issue of CPS comes up a lot with this non-profit. People of a lower socioeconomic class do not understand CPS – heck, I do not understand CPS. Most people seeking help from this organization think CPS is a law enforcement agency. CPS actually wants people to think that they are law enforcement because it makes their job easier.
Every week, someone enters the office of this non-profit and says that CPS took their children. The organization’s standard response is, “No, you gave your children to them.” People hand over their children to CPS every day in Texas and the story is always the same. CPS bullies someone into a signing a document relinquishing their children to the agency. CPS has become a bully to many and, unfortunately, the poor are the most victimized because they do not have access to resources.
In April 2016, Abbott appointed retired Chief Texas Ranger Henry “Hank” Whitman to lead the Department of Family and Protective Services, parent agency of Child Protective Services. Abbott also sent over the head of child support services from the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Investigators like to investigate things and that does not always bode well for children or parents. Whitman is reaching out to church groups and ministers for the “Network of Nurture Initiative.” This is good. The church is where society turned to for many years before the government got in the way.
I am nervous because Governor Abbott has a history of creating really big government bureaucracies that serve no one well. The Attorney General’s Office grew exponentially under Greg Abbott’s tenure. The Attorney General’s Office files 80% of all the family law cases in Texas and the legal juggernaut has wreaked havoc on parenting and clogged the courts of our state. The AG’s Office files enforcement actions against parents hundreds of times a day creating a very large bureaucracy that feeds on itself. Family courts, court personnel, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, CPS lawyers, and lawyers from the AG’s office all do this horrible kabuki dance everyday down at the courthouse. The biggest losers in all of this are families and children. The problem is magnified in large urban areas where needs are increased. The bureaucracy has become the problem and is working against families.
I do not think that we should spend one dime to “improve” CPS. Instead, upgrading the agency’s technology would be much more cost effective. Investigators leave the CPS offices everyday with files crammed full of papers off to investigate another case. Wouldn’t it be nice if all that paper was on a tablet? The tablet could contain all the information needed for all their cases with access to volumes more information, if needed.
At the non-profit, our office is paperless. It is paperless because we know that every time someone touches a piece of paper, it costs money. Going paperless also prevents important documents from being lost. The non-profit went paperless because the money saved went to help more indigent people. We saved 30% of expenses by making this simple change. A technology upgrade at CPS would solve one of the biggest criticisms of the agency, which is being able to track custodial homes for children.
CPS policies and procedures are setting up parents for failure. All of the hoops set up for parents to jump through make it difficult, if not impossible, to reunite parents with children. Parents must attend parenting classes, drug testing, psychological evaluations, and home visits while maintaining a job. Parents are told to report for drug testing when no appointment is on the books, which wastes their time and money. Working parents are forced to take off work multiple times to submit to all the services designed to help them be reunited with their children, but which actually sabotage their success. The policies and procedures of CPS are not working and we can do better.
Republicans need to get this right. The goal should always be a balance of the best often-competing interests of children. These interests include children wanting to go home, needing safety, and being with siblings. Creating large, inefficient, unresponsive bureaucracies harms families and children. Throwing money at the problem and adding more CPS personnel is unlikely to make the system more responsive to the needs of children. Director Whitman, come visit us and learn what it is really like trying to help children maintain a loving relationship with both parents. A group of conservatives do it every day in Houston and we want to help the state save money while maintaining safe and happy environments for our children.