Why is my child going into in foster care?

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.

Note: Please tell your caseworker if your child is of American Indian or Alaskan Native descent as special laws  may apply.

How does my child come into foster care?

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 for their protection. If a judge decides that a child needs to be removed, the child may go into foster care.

CPS may remove children from their homes in an emergency before going to court to ensure their immediate safety. However, a judge must approve for children to remain in foster care for more than a day or a weekend.

What should I expect at court?

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.

How can I get 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. You may also ask the judge for an interpreter if you are unable to speak or understand English or if you have trouble hearing or speaking.

 

Note: The court also appoints a special attorney for your child since children cannot make legal decisions for themselves. Known as 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. Guardian ad litems may or may not be attorneys and are appointed by the court in order to represent your child's best interests.

What court actions can affect me and my child?
  • Emergency 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.
  • Non-emergency hearings/Show Cause hearings:  CPS often asks 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 (see “What should I expect from my caseworker?”) 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. The court may issue any additional orders it deems necessary. After that, permanency court reviews are held every four months until the case is resolved and your child's legal status is permanent.
  • 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.
  • Placement Review Hearings: If a court gives CPS permanent custody of a child (permanent managing conservatorship), the court reviews the child's living arrangements and plans every six months.

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.

What is mediation?

In some areas of Texas, CPS works with mediators to help resolve cases more quickly so children do not have to stay in foster care as long. Mediation allows you, your attorney, CPS, and its attorney to try to reach agreement before going to court. Mediators are always independent, impartial individuals who have been specially trained to help people resolve differences. Mediation is a less formal situation than court.If you wish to use a mediator to help resolve differences, ask your caseworker if mediation is available in your area.

What is a Family Group Conference?

A Family Group Conference is a meeting where families join with relatives, friends, the community, and CPS to develop a plan to ensure children are cared for and protected from future harm.

Why Family Group Conferences?
  • Families know best about children and their needs.
  • It's less traumatic for children.
  • Culture, dignity, and values are respected.
  • Fathers and families are involved more often.
  • It can find and use community supports as available.

If you want a Family Group Conference, CPS will set up a meeting. The family helps pick the time, place, and who attends. Families can invite anyone who is important in their children's lives. Tell your caseworker if you want a Family Group Conference.

What should I expect from my caseworker?

The case worker is your main point of contact when your child is in CPS care. The caseworker makes sure your child gets good care and tries to help you work out your problems so your child can return home. Talk to your caseworker about accommodations if you have a disability or special needs.

You and your caseworker should begin by talking about why your child is in state care. Together, you will decide what changes you need to make for your child to return home and set up a plan for making these changes. This is called the Family Service Plan. This plan can work only if you and your caseworker work together and stay in touch with each other. You will be able to share information and concerns about your child. Your caseworker will help you by arranging visits, if appropriate, with your child, providing advice and counseling, and referring you to other services you may need.

You may be able to meet and talk with your child's foster parents or other caregivers. You, your caseworker, and the foster parents may be able to set up a schedule so you can visit regularly to talk about your child.

After working with you for five months, your caseworker must make a decision about what recommendation to make to the court in order to resolve the legal case. This will be discussed at the CPS Permanency Conference that you will be invited to attend during the fifth month that your child is in foster care.

Where will my child be?

Your child's needs are the most important consideration in deciding where he or she will live while in CPS care. It must be a place that can meet your child's needs. However, your desires about the care of your child will be taken into account when possible.

The court must consider a temporary placement with a relative. You will be asked to give your caseworker information about relatives or close family friends who may be able to care for your child until it is possible for him or her to return safely to your care. CPS will contact the people on your list to find out if any of them would be appropriate and are willing to care for your child.

If no relative or close friend is available or appropriate, your child may be placed in foster care. Foster care includes the following:

  • Emergency foster homes or shelters, where your child may live for as many as 30 days, until a more long term place to live is found to meet your child's specific needs;
  • A foster home, where your child lives with foster parents until a permanent place to live is decided
  • A basic care facility or residential treatment center, where children live in group homes or cottages and are cared for by counselors or house parents.

Licensed caregivers provide daily care and are reimbursed to help cover the cost of caring for your child. However, you are still legally responsible for your child's needs and the court may order you to pay child support.

Wherever your child lives, CPS will supervise the placement. Foster homes and facilities must be approved and monitored by a foster care agency (child-placing agency).This can be either a privately-run agency or CPS itself.

What is going to happen to my child?

It is very important for children to have safe, permanent homes. CPS' goal is always to find safe, permanent homes for children as soon as possible. First, we try to return children to their own homes. If that's not possible, we consider other options like a relative's home or adoption.

The court makes the final decision about a child's custody within 12 months, unless the judge grants a one-time extension of up to six-extra months.

So, it is important for you to get the help you need and make whatever changes necessary to show that you can protect and provide for the safety of your child or to help CPS make alternative arrangement. There is no time to delay.

What are the permanent options for my child?

If your child is removed from your home, CPS will first look at trying to address the issue that caused the removal and reunite you with your child. If that is not possible, CPS and the courts will pursue one of the following permanent solutions (permanency goals) for your child:

  • Alternative family placement. This means:
    • Adoption by a relative
    • Permanent custody by a relative
    • Adoption by an unrelated family.
    • Permanent custody by an unrelated family
    • Care by a foster family with CPS having permanent legal custody
    • Care in some other family arrangement with CPS having permanent legal custody.
  • Another planned living arrangement with the support of a family consisting of:
    • Preparation for independent adult living, for youth who are at least 16 years old and have no developmental disability.
    • Preparation for adult living with community assistance in the most integrated setting, for youth who are at least 18 years old and who have a developmental disability.

Generally, these options are listed in CPS' order of preference. Unless there is a strong reason not to work with you on family reunification, CPS will try to do that first  However, this goal may change during the course of your case depending upon the circumstances involved as well as your level of participation. You may contest CPS in court if you disagree with the permanency goal recommended for your child unless the court terminates your parental rights to that child.

Note: You can voluntarily give up your parental rights by signing a legal document called a relinquishment. You should think about this carefully and discuss it with your attorney because signing a relinquishment is a serious matter. If you do, the court may issue an order that you are no longer your child's legal parent. If that happens, you will no longer be responsible for your child or have any say in your child's future. Your child can then be adopted by another family.

What if I have problems caring for my child after my child is returned to me?

It is not unusual for parents to have some problems after their child returns to them. Your child has been in someone else's care for some time and it takes time for both of you to adjust. Therapists, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers, and your caseworker are there to help. We encourage you to seek their assistance and advice.

However, if these problems lead to abuse or neglect or the risk of abuse or neglect, we might have to remove your child from your care again. CPS usually has legal custody of your child for a short time after your child returns to your care. In that case, CPS can legally remove your child again without a court hearing. Some courts have specific local rules when a "re-removal" occurs.

The caseworker will usually tell you why your child is being removed before the re-removal happens, if we know where to find you and doing so won't endanger the child. Otherwise, CPS will notify you no later than the first workday after the re-removal.  

You have the legal right to be represented by an attorney if your child is removed again. You should tell you attorney right away if you already have one. Your attorney can set a court hearing and try to resolve any disputes. If your child is removed again, CPS will review your child's permanency plan. CPS may no longer consider it safe to return the child to your care and will probably consider other options. See  "What are the permanent options for my child?"

What are my protections and responsibilities?

You are entitled to a number of protections as a parent of children in CPS care, but you need to work with your caseworker to fully benefit from these protections. You also have responsibilities. If you make an honest effort to meet your responsibilities, you can benefit from services you get and the relationships you build. If not, the court may decide to take away your parental rights and the following protections would then no longer exist.

Your protections are to:

  • Get a written copy of your Family Service Plan (and updates) so you have in writing what CPS expects and what you agree to do get your child back.  If the court gives CPS permanent custody, there is no longer a Family Service Plan.
  • Talk with your caseworker about your child's Service Plan and its review and to ask for a copy.
  • Get the information you need to make informed decisions about your child.
  • Visit with your child if appropriate. You and your caseworker together will decide how often, when, and where you should get together, unless a court order makes those decisions.
  • Bring gifts, send mail, and make telephone calls to your child, as described in the Family Service Plan, unless doing so is not in your child's best interest;
  • Be kept informed of your child's placement, health, development, behavior, and progress in school or day care.
  • Receive information about trips your child may take.
  • Know as soon as possible about surgery or serious medical care or treatment that your child either needs or has received.
  • Have the chance to learn about the minimum standards for child-placing agencies and policies of CPS.
  • Make a complaint about services or treatment by notifying your caseworker's supervisor.
  • Appeal if a service that CPS offers is denied, reduced, or terminated. You may request a fair hearing after discussing the concern with your caseworker, the supervisor, and program director.
  • Be notified of and  attend any court action that affects your child unless the court acts in an emergency.
  • Talk to an attorney at any time and to have an attorney represent you in court actions affecting your child or your parental rights, except when the court acts in an emergency;
  • Be informed of the CPS discipline policy concerning children.
  • Be informed of written reports you can expect to receive from CPS.
  • Contact the Office of Consumer Affairs if the caseworker, supervisor, or program director is not providing you the protections listed above.

Your responsibilities are to:

  • Be honest with information.
  • Follow through with services, appointments, visitation, meetings, and court appearances.
  • Tell your caseworker about difficulties you may have with things like transportation, money, food or other necessities so you caseworker can refer you to community resources or other available assistance.
  • Tell your caseworker if you or your children are of American Indian or Alaskan Native descent because special laws may apply to your case.
  • Share with your caseworker any medical, physical, or psychological information about your child. This includes but is not limited to medications, the child's pediatrician and/or specialist, eating habits, allergic reactions to food, medicine, or any other information  CPS asks of you.
  • Tell your caseworker of special religious requests or observances for your child.
  • Cooperate with CPS by giving the names, addresses, and phone numbers of interested family members or significant people in your child's life who may be interested in taking your child into their home or helping your child in another way.
  • Work with your caseworker to develop and review your Family Service Plan.
  • Visit with your child as expected and arranged by your caseworker (within any court-ordered limits), and to notify your caseworker as soon as possible if you have to miss a visitation as it is no simple matter to arrange visits.
  • Discuss your progress or difficulties with your caseworker.
  • Inform your caseworker about major changes in your life or the lives of other members of your family such as changes in your address, telephone number, job, income, marriage, or other living arrangements.
  • Keep appointments with your caseworker and let your caseworker know as soon as possible if you cannot do so.
  • Answer all letters and requests from CPS. It is important that you provide any information your caseworker asks of you.
  • Contribute to the cost of your child's care and tell your caseworker if your income changes.
  • Meet all court-ordered requirements and agreements you make with CPS;
  • Help your child feel better about being in CPS care and encourage your child to follow the rules of the foster home or other placement.
  • Talk about your child's care and progress with your caseworker.
What religious training will my child receive while in CPS care?

CPS tries to accommodate the child and family's wishes about religious training, within the limits of the caregiver's situation, resources, and abilities. A child is not required to participate in the caregiver's particular religious practices or activities.

How will my child be disciplined while in CPS care?

Children in CPS custody must be treated with respect and dignity. The primary purpose of discipline must be to encourage appropriate behavior, not to punish the child. Discipline must suit the particular needs and circumstances of each child, and it must take into account the child's age, developmental level, specific misbehavior, previous reaction to discipline, and history, including any history of physical or emotional abuse. No child in the managing conservatorship of CPS may be deprived of basic necessities or be subjected to cruel, harsh, unusual, or unnecessary punishment.  Children in foster care must not receive physical punishment.

Appropriate discipline can include: establishing routines, setting reasonable limits, modeling appropriate behavior, offering choices, giving explanations, repeating instructions, use of "time outs," allowing logical or natural consequences, and reinforcing desired behavior.

What written reports will I receive from CPS?

Parents routinely receive two CPS reports:

  • Family and Child Service Plans: The Family Service Plans are completed by the 21st day after your child has come into care and are reviewed at least every six months. The Child's Service Plan is completed by the 45th day after your child has come into care and is reviewed at least every six months. Children receiving therapeutic care receive a written Child's Service Plan more frequently.
  • Permanency reports: You or your attorney will receive a copy of the Permanency Report to the Court at least 10 days prior to the scheduled permanency court reviews. These reviews are held after your child has been in care six months and then every four months thereafter while the legal case is in temporary status.
What visitation rules must be followed?
  • Visit your child regularly, if appropriate. It is important that you show your love for your child even though your child is not living with you.
  • Call your caseworker if for some reason you can't visit when there is a set appointment.
  • Be on time. If you are late, your visit may be cut short or canceled.
  • Talk with your caseworker and the foster parents about your child's health, progress in school, and adjustment to the foster family.
  • Make prior arrangements with your caseworker before bringing other people to your visit with your child.
  • Don't take your child' clothes and toys that have been brought to the visit with you when you  leave, saying, "you may have these when you come home." Clothes may no longer fit and not being able to take a toy or gift with him or her may upset your child.
  • Don't mention a specific time or day if your child asks when he or she can go home, unless you and your caseworker have already agreed upon a day and time. Your child will be very upset if that day comes and he or she was not allowed to go home.
  • Don't talk to your caseworker about problems in front of your child. It could be a simple misunderstanding to you but it might be very confusing to your child.
What can I do if I have a complaint?

The first person to talk to when you have a complaint is your caseworker. An open discussion will often settle the matter. If you and your caseworker cannot resolve the problem, ask to speak to your caseworker's supervisor. If the problem still cannot be resolved, ask to speak with a program director.

If the disagreement you are having with the agency is about your child's return home or the agency's refusal to let you visit, you may request the court to resolve it. You may need an attorney to help you. The judge may listen to both you and the agency and may make a decision based on your legal rights and what is best for your child. Both you and CPS must follow the judge's order.

If you have a case-related complaint concerning a decision by CPS and want an impartial review, you can contact the Office of Consumer Affairs. They will research case actions to ensure that CPS policy and procedure were followed and make recommendations.

Office of Consumer Affairs
1-800-720-7777
oca@dfps.state.tx.us

Letter from a foster family

A foster family will do as much as they can to help your child. Here is a letter written by a typical foster family to the parent of a child in foster care.

Dear Parent:

We are your child's foster parents and we will remain in your child's life only as long as your child needs us. We will help your child deal with everyday life as easily as possible until your child goes home.

We may live in different neighborhoods, come from different backgrounds, or prepare different types of meals, but we have one very important common interest: the well-being of your child.

We will provide for your child to the best of our ability, not losing sight of the fact that this is your child. We will explain that just because you are not with your child doesn't mean that you do not love him or her.

We don't have to be friends, but we can work together for the best interest of your child. You are still one of the most important people in your child's life.

Sincerely,

A Foster Family

Important Legal Terms

CASA - A court appointed special advocate (CASA) is a person who takes court-approved training and is certified by the court to appear at court hearings as a volunteer advocate on behalf of a child.

Final Orders - These orders end the court involvement in the parent-child relationship by returning managing conservatorship to a parent, granting managing conservatorship to a relative, granting permanent managing conservatorship to CPS, or terminating the parental rights to the child.

Home Study/Home Assessment - This is an assessment of the home of any person requesting possession of a child for whom CPS is the managing conservator.

Kinship/Relative Placement - The home of a relative or family friend where a child is placed to live when parents are unable to provide for the child’s safety.

Kinship Caregiver Specialist/Kinship Worker - This is a CPS caseworker who works with relatives who provide care for a child in CPS legal custody. They provide kinship caregivers with education, support, advocacy and training.

Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) - This means permanent legal responsibility for the child.  Permanent managing conservatorship continues until a court grants legal custody to someone else, the child turns 18 and becomes an adult, or until a court removes his or her minority status  (emancipation).

Permanency Conference-a meeting of all parties involved in the planning for the child to develop and/or review the permanent plan for the child.

Service Plan - This is an agreement between CPS and the parents of children in substitute care (foster care, kinship care, etc).  It outlines expectations for change needed in order for the child to be returned home safely as well as the services CPS will provide to help the parent make those changes.

Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC) - This is an appointment by the court giving the right to physical possession of the child, the duty of care, control and protection, and the responsibility to provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs.

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) - Parent(s) loses all legal right to the child by court order and the child is legally free to be adopted.

Helpful Tips for Parents with a CPS Case:

  • Be respectful in the courtroom.
  • Dress nicely for court.
  • Turn off the sound on cell phones while in the courtroom.
  • Do not chew gum in the courtroom.

Overview of 12-Month Court Process for Child Abuse and Neglect Cases

chart for Overview of 12-month court process