TLC Files Amicus Brief in Federal Class Action Suit on Behalf of Texas Foster Children
On December 15, 2017, Texas Lawyers for Children (TLC) filed an amicus brief in the federal class action suit on behalf of Texas foster children. The brief focuses on the issue of the harm that foster children experience when the mental health professionals who diagnose, treat, and/or prescribe medication for them do not have adequate training on the impact of trauma on children. Since the symptoms of trauma are similar to those for certain mental disorders, including bipolar disorder, ADHD, and oppositional defiant disorder, there is an unreasonable risk of harm that foster children will be misdiagnosed and receive inappropriate treatment or unnecessary psychotropic medication. TLC urged the court to order that DFPS be prohibited from continuing to contract with inadequately trained mental health professionals. To view TLC's brief,
On December 4, 2017, the Special Masters in M.D. v. Abbott, the federal class action suit on behalf of Texas foster children, filed an Implementation Plan for the purpose of reforming the Texas foster care system. The stated goal of the plan is "to provide children in the Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) of Texas with the minimum standards of personal security and safe living conditions so that they are free from unreasonable risk of harm, both physical and emotional." The Plan details numerous changes to be made. To view a Dallas Morning News article which summarizes highlights of the Plan,
click here. To view the actual Implementation Plan, click here.
On October 3, 2017, in partnership with the Texas State Bar, the Supreme Court Children's Commission is presenting two live webcasts on basic and advanced trial skills in CPS cases, for a total of 6 hours of MCLE credit, including .75 hours of ethics. The morning course is called "Preparing Your CPS Case for Trial: Position Yourself to Win," and the afternoon course is "Basic and Advanced Trial Skills in CPS Litigation: Persuade and Prevail." Discounts and partial scholarships are available. Scholarships are available until a year after the broadcast date, so you can still use a scholarship even if you can't watch the programs on October 3. To learn about the discounts and scholarships and to register for the webcasts,
On October 3, 2017, you can attend a very important training on the impact of trauma on children and ways to promote healing for the child. The Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at TCU and the Travis County Collaborative for Children will present the TBRI Overview from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm at the Holiday Inn Midtown in the Hill Country Ballroom in Austin. Cost is $25. Deadline to register is 5:00 pm on Monday, September 25, or sooner if space is full. TBRI, which is Trust-Based Relational Intervention, is a comprehensive set of methods for interacting with traumatized children that promotes their healing rather than retraumatization. To register for this program,
In order to assist you as you work to help foster children who have been displaced due to Hurricane Harvey, TLC has added some new resources to the Online Center dealing with helping children cope with the trauma of a hurricane and also dealing with the legal rights of displaced children regarding education. As you may know, the Online Center already includes over 85 other articles on various topics related to the impact of trauma on children. These can be located in the section on Resources under the topic of "Trauma" and its numerous subtopics. For ideas on helping children after a hurricane that you can use yourself and give to foster parents or other caregivers,
click here. For tips on helping children cope with a traumatic event,
click here. For information on helping children deal with loss and frightening news, click here. For information written for youth on the legal rights of displaced children concerning education, click here. For the "Disaster Edition of the Homeless Education Advocacy Manual,"
At TLC, our hearts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. TLC's Online Center can be used to connect those of you who would like to help the Houston area judges, attorneys, and the children in their cases with your colleagues needing help. The Pro Bono network now includes options for you to provide Hurricane Help by volunteering to visit a foster child who has been relocated to another area (you may need to be appointed as co-counsel to the child's ad litem), assisting with a case, providing housing or office space, or providing electronic equipment or clothing. To volunteer to provide Hurricane Help click on "Pro Bono" on the red menu bar at the top and select "Volunteer for Pro Bono Network". Complete the volunteer form and select the applicable "Hurricane Help" areas of assistance. You can also select other general areas to provide pro bono help. Under "Levels of Involvement" be sure to select "Hurricane Help". If you choose to assist in other areas in addition to Hurricane Help, you can also select other "Levels of Involvement". Please note - your name and information will not be visible to the public, only to other judges and attorneys who are registered for TLC's Online Center.To receive Hurricane Help click here. Scroll down to the list of areas of assistance, and click on the type of "Hurricane Help" you are seeking to see a list of available volunteers. Thank you to all of you who generously decide to help your colleagues and the children in their cases. For those trying to find help for the children in your cases and to recover from the havoc wreaked in your lives, we hope TLC's Online Center serves as a way to spread the TLC of your colleagues throughout the Houston area.
On August 28, 2017, the Texas Supreme Court issued an Emergency Order Affecting Child Protection Cases. The Order suspends the deadlines of Section 263.401 of the Texas Family Code "if the court finds that disasterous conditions from Hurricane Harvey precluded compliance." To view the Order,
THIS EVENT IS POSTPONED.
On August 29, 2017, in partnership with the Texas State Bar, the Supreme Court Children's Commission is presenting two live webcasts on basic and advanced trial skills in CPS cases, for a total of 6 hours of MCLE credit, including .75 hours of ethics. The morning course is called "Preparing Your CPS Case for Trial: Position Yourself to Win," and the afternoon course is "Basic and Advanced Trial Skills in CPS Litigation: Persuade and Prevail". Discounts and partial scholarships are available. To learn about the discounts and scholarships and to register for the webcasts,
A Development Committee, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann, is working toward starting a Child Protection Law Section of the State Bar. The State Bar has a Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, but there is no section serving this important area of the law. Those working toward this goal believe that forming a State Bar section is an important step in advancing this area of practice. We are extremely grateful to Justice Lehrmann for taking time to lead this important effort. To begin the process, we must receive a minimum of 200 signatures on a petition to be submitted to the Bar. Signing the petition indicates that you are in favor of starting this section and that you are willing to join the section and pay the dues of $20. If you would like to help start this section, please sign the petition and fax it to 915-771-0271. Many thanks to El Paso attorney Mark Briggs for being willing to receive the faxed petitions. If you have any trouble with the faxing process, Mark's office phone is 915-779-0039. To access the petition, click here.
The Texas Supreme Court Children's Commission has done a very thorough legislative update of statutory changes affecting child protection cases. We appreciate the Commission's generosity in sharing this update so we can make it available to judges and attorneys using TLC's Online Center. To view the Legislative Update from the 85th legislative session, click here. Also, the Children's Commission is conducting a Webcast with CLE credit from 1:30-3:00 pm on Monday, July 24, 2017, regarding key legislative changes. Scholarships and discounts are available for this Webcast. To learn about the discounts and scholarships and to register for the Webcast, click here.
The Texas Supreme Court Children's Commission is offering registration scholarships to attorneys for the Child Abuse and Neglect (CAN) Track at the annual State Bar of Texas' Advanced Family Law Conference. This track covers current topics of interest to Texas attorneys who practice on the CPS docket. The Advanced Family Law CLE 1-Day CAN track will be held live in San Antonio, Texas, on August 9, 2017, with upcoming video replays in Houston on September 22, 2017; Dallas on September 29; and South Padre on October 13. The deadline to apply is 5:00 pm Monday, June 5, 2017. To access the application,
The Texas House Human Services Committee is conducting a hearing on 2 key CPS Reform bills, among others, starting at 9:00 am on Monday, April 17, 2017. HB 205 requires that before a court may order a parent to participate in services or permit the child to receive services provided by the Department, the court MUST conduct a trial, and the Dept. must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent abused or neglected the child or is likely to do so in the immediate or foreseeable future. The bill also requires the court to appoint an attorney for the parent without reference to a finding of indigency. SB 11 (previously discussed) includes provisions that transfer ALL case management services to a private contractor in areas where Foster Care Redesign (being renamed "Community Based Foster Care") is being implemented. As you know, TLC is against privatizing case management services, but if it must happen, TLC believes the roll-out plan in HB 6 is preferable to the one in SB 11. HB 6 requires that before transferring case management services, the Department must have first successfully transferred foster care services to the private contractor. To view the notice listing all bills to be heard on Monday,
click here. For the text of HB 205,
click here, and for SB 11,
The State Bar's Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect is seeking nominations for its annual Fairy Davenport Rutland Award for Distinguished Service to Children and Families. The award is named after Ms. Rutland in recognition of her exceptional leadership as a founding member and chair of the Committee for over 20 years and her continuing dedication and many ongoing contributions to the field of child welfare. The award honors an attorney who has made a substantial contribution to the field of advocacy for abused and neglected children. The deadline for nominations is May 1, 2017. The award recipient will be announced at the Advanced Family Law Conference in August. To view the nomination form,
The House Human Services Committee is conducting a hearing in Room E2.030 at 8:00 am on Monday, April 10, 2017, on HB 3109. This bill continues the appointment of an attorney ad litem for a child for as long as the child is in the managing conservatorship of the Department. TLC believes that it is critical that these foster children have representation in order not to fall through the cracks. This bill implements the finding in Judge Jack's Jan. 9, 2017 Interim Order (posted in the Recent News section on Jan. 9) that children in the PMC of the State have a constitutional right to an attorney. To view the hearing notice,
click here. To view the committee substitute for HB 3109,
The Texas House Human Services Committee is conducting a key hearing on 2 CPS Reform bills starting at 8:30 am on Monday, March 27, 2017. HB 1542 addresses the definition of "least restrictive environment", and HB 2335 addresses trauma training for caseworkers and certain caregivers. HB 1542 defines "least restrictive environment" as, among other things, the one "closest in proximity to the child's home." It also says that for Basic and Moderate level children, the least restrictive environment is either a foster home or cottage home and puts cottage homes on par with foster homes. As written, the bill could be read to require that a child be placed in a cottage home rather than with a relative or rather than in a foster home because the cottage home is closer to the child's original home. HB 2335 requires that caseworkers and certain caregivers receive training in trauma-based care. TLC believes that no matter what we fix in the CPS system, if we don't require those who have direct contact with or make decisions on behalf of abused or neglected children to have training regarding the impact of trauma on children, then we will continue to send these vulnerable children into the downward spiral we see so often, which is caused by: erroneously labeling and treating a child's trauma-driven behavior as "willful disobedience" rather than a condition needing healing, which can make the child's behavior worse; misdiagnosing trauma symptoms as mental disorders and resorting to multiple psychotropic drugs, which can make the child's behavior worse or reduce the child to a zombie and also cause harmful side effects; as the child's behavior worsens because trauma-focused treatment is not being provided, the child is repeatedly kicked from foster home to foster home, further traumatizing the child and leading to a downward spiral of more psychotropic drugs, relationship loss, and placement instability, all making the child's behavior and condition worse, including delinquent conduct and crossover into the juvenile justice system, where the child is treated as a criminal rather than a child needing healing; and the child's behavior and condition continue to get worse, harming the child's chance for healthy relationships and a productive life. To view the hearing notice,
click here. To view HB 1542,
click here, and for HB 2335,
The Texas House Human Services Committee is conducting a hearing on 3 CPS reform bills on March 20, 2017, at 8:30 am. The hearing concerns the bills listed below. If you want to express your views on these issues, email or call the 9 members of the committee. HB 7 makes several changes concerning child protection suits filed by DFPS. HB 39 makes several changes concerning the functions of DFPS. HB 1549 is an omnibus bill of numerous reforms. To view the hearing notice,
click here. To view HB 7,
click here, and for HB 39,
click here, and for HB 1549,
click here. To view an analysis of HB 1549 graciously provided by TexProtects, click here.
To watch the video of the hearing, click here.
The House Human Services Committee is currently considering HB 6, which is the primary CPS reform bill in the House. The bill is currently undergoing amendments and could be voted out of the Committee any day without another public hearing. If you would like to provide input on this bill, call and/or email the members of the Committee. For a list of Committee members and contact information, please
The Texas House Human Services Committee is considering HB 6, the primary CPS reform bill in the House. The bill's author, Rep. Frank, is currently making changes to the bill. At the Feb. 20 hearing, Rep. Frank stated that he intends to add the privatization scheme that would transfer all case management services to a private contractor, as has been done in SB 11. To see Part 1 of the hearing on HB 6,
click here. For Part 2,
For the text of HB 6,
To view the Dallas Morning News editorial warning against privatization,
click here. To view the op-ed by Hon. Scott McCown,
click here. To view an article from the Texas Observer quoting Hon. Scott McCown and TLC's Director,
click here. For TLC's written testimony against privatization,
The Texas Senate passed SB 11 to reform Child Protective Services. The bill transfers all case management services to a private contractor in areas where Foster Care Redesign (being renamed "Community Based Foster Care") is being implemented. This arrangement will eliminate all CPS conservatorship caseworkers in those areas (with an aggressive roll-out of Foster Care Redesign across the state). All decision-making and court involvement will be done by the private contractor rather than CPS. CPS will no longer have direct contact with the child or family. All services for the child and family will be decided and monitored by the private contractor. CPS will no longer have direct knowledge of the child's condition or circumstances. Oversight of the contractor will be through performance based measures in the contract, based on information provided to CPS by the contractor rather than by direct involvement or knowledge of CPS. The private contractor will be the one appearing at court hearings and making final recommendations to the court.
Many have voiced concerns about this approach to CPS reform. To see a video of the Senate hearing on SB 11,
click here. For the text of SB 11, click here.
To view a Dallas Morning News article about the bill, click here.
The Texas House of Representatives passed two bills to reform CPS, HB 4 and HB 5. HB 4 increases payments to kinship caregivers. HB 5 makes DFPS a stand alone agency which reports directly to the Governor rather than to the Health and Human Services Commission. For the text of HB 4,
click here. To view a Dallas Morning News article about the new funding for kinship placements,
click here. For the text of HB 5,
On February 14, 2017, the Texas Supreme Court approved a board specialization in the area of Child Welfare Law through the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS). TLC and the State Bar Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect were early proponents of having a board certification in this area of law, and we are extremely grateful to the Supreme Court Children's Commission for filing the petition to create this specialization and carrying the torch throughout the process to see this come to fruition!!
For those interested in becoming board certified in Child Welfare Law, TBLS will begin taking applications for the certification exam in February 2018, and the first Child Welfare Law Certification exam will be administered in October 2018. To review the steps involved in becoming board certified, click here. To view the standards for board certification in Child Welfare Law, click here.
Child protection advocates from across the State are gathering in Austin at 1:45 Tues., Feb. 7, for a 2:00 pm Child Protection Day Rally on the south steps of the Capitol. If you plan to attend, please wear blue as a sign of your support for child protection. For more details on the rally and other activities throughout the day, including a reception, please
The Texas Supreme Court's Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families is offering a free, hands-on Trial Skills Training for less experienced attorneys handling Child Protective Services cases in Texas who want to improve their litigation skills. A fictional CPS case and live witnesses are partnered with top-notch instructors to coach attendees through all stages of trial. For purposes of the training, "less experienced" means that prior to applying, applicants who take court appointments will have completed an average of 2 to 3 final termination trials as first chair, and applicants who represent DFPS will have completed 3 to 7 final termination trials as first chair. The course is being conducted in San Marcos on May 8-10, 2017. Space is limited to 21 attorneys who represent children, parents, or DFPS on the CPS docket. Registration is free. The Children's Commission will contact each applicant's appointing judge to confirm suitability for the training. Attorneys will be notified about acceptance into the training by Feb 28, 2017. The deadline to apply is midnight, Sunday, February 5, 2017. For more information and to submit an application, click here.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee is conducting a key hearing on Senate Bill 11 in Room E1.028 on Thursday, Feb. 2. The bill includes some significant changes to how DFPS will operate, including directing that in all areas where Foster Care Redesign has been implemented, all case management services will be performed by the private single source contractor rather than by DFPS. This means that CPS will no longer have direct contact with the child or family. All services for the child and family will be decided and monitored by the private contractor. CPS will no longer have direct knowledge of the child's condition or circumstances. Oversight of the contractor will be through performance based measures in the contract, presumably based on information provided to CPS by the contractor rather than by direct involvement or knowledge of CPS. This is a sweeping change in who will have information about the child and family and how that information will be provided to CPS. To view the hearing notice,
click here. To view Senate Bill 11,
click here. To view the bill analysis,
On Monday, January 30, the House Workgroup on CPS held a press conference to discuss its plans for reforms. The plans include transferring case management services from CPS. To view a video of the press conference,
On January 9, 2017, despite the State's objections, Hon. Janis Graham Jack entered an interim order covering numerous issues in the federal class action suit concerning Texas foster children. Judge Jack explained that she was not yet able to enter a final order, saying that "all required information is not yet available nor have measures to correct previous constitutional deficiencies found by the Court been implemented....Further studies and consultations between the Special Masters, the Court, and the State are necessary before a final order can be entered." To view the Court's Order,
click here. To view the State's objections to the Special Masters' recommendations,