The principal governing legislation for CPS investigations is Chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code (TFC). The TFC definitions of abuse or neglect investigated by CPS are:
Physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child, or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child, including an injury that is at variance with the history or explanation given and excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent, guardian, or managing or possessory conservator that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm; failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent an action by another person that results in physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child; the current use by a person of a controlled substance as defined by Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code, in a manner or to the extent that the use results in physical injury to a child; or causing, expressly permitting, or encouraging a child to use a controlled substance as defined by Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code.
Sexual conduct harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare, including conduct that constitutes the offense of indecency with a child under Section 21.11, Penal Code, sexual assault under Section 22.011, Penal Code, or aggravated sexual assault under Section 22.021, Penal Code; failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct harmful to a child; compelling or encouraging a child to engage in sexual conduct as defined by Section 43.01, Penal Code; causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing the photographing, filming, or depicting of the child if the person knew or should have known that the resulting photograph, film, or depiction of the child is obscene (as defined by the Penal Code) or pornographic; or causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing a sexual performance by a child as defined by 43.25, Penal Code.
Mental or emotional injury to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in the child's growth, development, or psychological functioning; causing or permitting the child to be in a situation in which the child sustains a mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment in the child's growth, development, or psychological functioning; or the current use by a person of a controlled substance as defined by Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code, in a manner or to the extent that the use results in mental, or emotional injury to a child.
Placing the child in or failing to remove the child from a situation that a reasonable person would realize requires judgment or actions beyond the child's level of maturity, physical condition, or mental abilities and that results in bodily injury or a substantial risk of immediate harm to the child; or placing a child in or failing to remove the child from a situation in which the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of sexual conduct harmful to the child.
Failing to seek, obtain, or follow through with medical care for a child, with the failure resulting in or presenting a substantial risk of death, disfigurement, or bodily injury or with the failure resulting in an observable and material impairment to the growth, development, or functioning of the child.
Failure to provide the child with food, clothing, or shelter necessary to sustain the life or health of the child, excluding failure caused primarily by financial inability unless relief services had been offered and refused.
Refusal to Assume Parental Responsibility
Failure by the person responsible for a child's care, custody, or welfare to permit the child to return to the child's home without arranging for the necessary care for the child after the child has been absent from the home for any reason, including having been in residential placement or having run away.
The leaving of a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm, without arranging for necessary care for the child, and a demonstration of an intent not to return by a parent, guardian, or managing or possessory conservator of the child.
Knowingly causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing a child to be trafficked in a manner punishable as an offense under §20A.02(a)(5) or (6) Penal Code, or the failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent a child from being trafficked in a manner punishable as an offense under any of these sections.
Knowingly causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing a child to be trafficked in a manner punishable as an offense under §20A.02(a)(7) or (8), Penal Code, or the failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent a child from being trafficked in a manner punishable as an offense under any of these sections. It includes compelling or encouraging the child in a manner to engage in sexual conduct that constitutes an offense of trafficking of persons under §20A.02(a)(7) or (8), Penal Code, prostitution under §43.02(b), Penal Code, or compelling prostitution under §43.05(a)(2), Penal Code.
Exclusion to Neglect
If a person responsible for a child's care, custody, or welfare refuses to permit the child to remain in or return to the child's home, it is not neglect if the:
- Child has a severe emotional disturbance.
- Person's refusal is based solely on the person's inability to obtain mental health services necessary to protect the safety and well-being of the child.
- Person has exhausted all reasonable means available to the person to obtain the mental health services necessary to protect the safety and well-being of the child..
Intake Screening Process
To establish time frames for investigations, each report of child abuse and neglect is assigned to a priority group. Statewide intake (SWI) makes an initial assessment and assigns priority based on the immediacy of risk and severity of harm to the child based on information provided by the reporter and other available information about the alleged perpetrators, child vulnerability, prior history, specific nature of the harm, and whether the harm has occurred. The initial priority may be changed if information gathered during the intake stage indicates that the abuse or neglect is either more or less serious than originally reported.
The priority groups are:
- Priority None (PN) A report may be classified as a PN when there is a history of abuse or neglect, but no current or foreseeable risk; or an incident of abuse or neglect may have met legal definitions at the time that the past incident occurred, but at the time of the new intake report, there are no current safety concerns and there is no known risk of recurrence in the foreseeable future.
- Priority I (P1) Intake reports that concern children who appear to face an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or serious harm. CPS must initiate the investigation within 24 hours of receiving a Priority I report.
- Priority II (P2) All reports of abuse or neglect that are not assigned as PN or P1 are assigned as a P2. These are reports that contain allegations of abuse or neglect in which there does not appear to be an immediate threat of serious harm or death. CPS must initiate the investigation within 72 hours of receiving a P2 report.
When SWI classifies an intake as a P2 and all alleged victims are age 6 or older and there is not currently an open case or classifies an intake as a PN, the intake is formally screened by a CPS screener to determine if further action is warranted. Within 72 hours, the CPS screener makes a determination about the intake. If further action is not needed, the intake is classified as a PN and closed. All other intakes are open for an investigation or Alternative Response.
All P2 intakes that are not formally screened and all P1 intakes are reviewed by a CPS supervisor. If the CPS supervisor determines that an investigation is not needed, the intake is classified as a PN and closed. All other intakes are open for an investigation.
DFPS is required by state law to conduct civil investigations of reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. The objectives of the investigation are to ensure child safety, determine whether abuse or neglect occurred, determine whether children are at risk for abuse or neglect in the future, provide child or family needed safety services and refer the family to services available in the community, if needed.
An investigation can be administratively closed if all allegations meet at least one of the following criteria:
- CPS does not have the authority to investigate the allegation.
- The allegation was already investigated and assigned a disposition.
- The allegation does not meet the definition of abuse or neglect.
- The allegation was based on an anonymous report and there is no evidence corroborating the allegation.
- The caseworker gathered sufficient, credible information refuting that the alleged abuse or neglect occurred or is at risk of occurring.
Alternative Response (AR)
AR is a different way to respond to reports of abuse/neglect. AR allows for a more flexible, family engaging approach while still focusing on the safety of the children. AR allows screened-in P2 reports where there is no open case and all alleged victims are 6 or older to be diverted from a traditional investigation and serviced through an alternative family centered assessment track. AR cases differ from traditional investigations cases in that there will be no substantiation of allegations, no entry of perpetrators into the Central Registry (a repository for reports of child abuse and neglect), and there will be a heightened focus on guiding the family to plan for safety in a way that works for them and therefore sustains the safety.
A staged rolled out of AR started in November 204 and, as of November 2016, Alternative Response has been fully implemented in Regions 1, 3, 7, 9 and 11. Regional roll-outs will continue with full statewide rollout anticipated by December 31, 2018.
Any non-AR investigation that is not administratively closed or merged into another stage.
All allegations on a Completed Investigation are given one of the following dispositions:
- Reason to Believe (RTB) - defined in section 2281.2 of the CPS policy handbook.
- Ruled Out (RO) - defined in section 2281.3 of CPS policy handbook, which includes an Abbreviated Rule Out defined in section 2291 of CPS policy handbook.
- Unable to Complete (UTC) - defined in section 2281.4 of CPS policy handbook.
- Unable to Determine (UTD) - defined in section 2281.5 of CPS policy handbook.
Once all allegations have been given a disposition, the investigation is assigned an overall disposition as follows:
- If at least one allegation has a RTB disposition, the investigation is given an overall disposition of RTB.
- If there are no allegations with an RTB disposition but there is at least one allegation with a disposition of UTD, the investigation is given an overall disposition of UTD.
- If there are no allegations with an RTB or UTD disposition but there is at least one allegation with a disposition of UTC, the investigation is given an overall disposition of UTC.
- If all the allegations have an RO disposition, the investigation is given an overall disposition of RO.
Risk Assessment of Future Child Abuse/Neglect
In addition to assigning a disposition to all allegations, in a Completed Investigation, except for an Abbreviated Rule Out, CPS workers assess the likelihood that the child will be abused or neglected in the foreseeable future. CPS uses the SDM Risk Assessment tool to help workers classify the degree of risk in the home. This tool is actuarially based and helps the worker determine whether or not the family needs services. The decision to provide services is based on the assessment of risk, safety and other circumstances in the case, not on the disposition of the allegations. There are four possible risk classifications:
- Very High
Children in the Custody of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)
All children for whom a court has appointed DFPS legal responsibility through temporary or permanent managing conservatorship or other court ordered legal basis. DFPS custody terminates when a court orders DFPS custody ended or a youth turns 18, whichever comes first.
Return and monitor
Any child who is living with a parent but who is still in DFPS Custody.
All children who are living in a DFPS out of home placement. It does not include children living in a return and monitor placement. Unless noted otherwise, it does include youth over 18 who are in extended foster care but are not in DFPS Custody.
A subset of Substitute Care that includes all children in DFPS custody who are living with a legal or blood relative or other individual who has a significant relationship with the child or the child's family known as "fictive kin."
A subset of Substitute Care that includes all children living in a placement that has been verified to provide 24-hour residential care for a child, in accordance with Chapter 42 of the Human Resources Code and related regulations. These placements include foster homes, including kinship care where the caregiver has been verified, general residential operations (GRO), emergency shelters, residential treatment centers (RTC), and juvenile facilities.
Paid foster care
A subset of Foster Care where DFPS is making foster care payments.
All children in DFPS Custody have one of the following court ordered statuses:
Care, Custody or Control
A court may order this legal status instead of ordering Temporary Managing Conservatorship. This order provides legal authority for DFPS to ensure a child's safety and meet a child's basic needs for shelter, food and education.
Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC)
When a court orders DFPS as TMC, DFPS can exercise specific rights including but not limited to the right to have physical possession of the child along with specific responsibilities including but not limited to the duty of care, control and protection of a child, the right to designate the primary residence of the child and the right to make decisions concerning the child's health-care and education.
Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC)
When a court orders DFPS as PMC, it can be either with a child's parental rights terminated or parental rights intact. The rights and duties of DFPS are generally the same as with TMC.
Possessory Conservatorship (PC) - when a court orders DFPS as PC, DFPS has the specific rights and duties enumerated in the court's order.
Exits from DFPS Custody
A child exits from DFPS custody when a court terminates DFPS legal responsibility or a youth turns 18, whichever comes first. The following are the categories of exits from DFPS Custody:
Child returns to the home of the parent from whom they were removed.
Relative as a permanent managing conservator (PMC)
A court orders PMC to an individual who is usually a legal or blood relative or other individual who has a significant relationship with the child or the child's family known as "fictive kin." The Relative as PMC can exercise specific rights including but not limited to the right to have physical possession of the child along with specific responsibilities including but not limited to the duty of care, control and protection of a child, the right to designate the primary residence of the child and the right to make decisions concerning the child's health-care and education. If the individual appointed as PMC meets the criteria for the Permanency Care Assistance (PCA) program, they get an ongoing monthly payment for the child that is similar to an adoption subsidy.
A court has ordered all parental rights terminated and orders legal custody to an adoptive parent.
A youth turns 18 and becomes a legal adult
Any other exit from DFPS custody which includes children in court ordered or independent living placements, children for whom DFPS custody was never obtained and children with a missing exit reason.
Texas Family Code Sec. 264.017
- The department shall prepare and disseminate a report of statistics by county relating to key performance measures and data elements for child protection.
- The department shall provide the report required by Subsection (a) to the legislature and shall publish the report and make the report available electronically to the public not later than February 1 of each year. The report must include, with respect to the preceding year:
- information on the number and disposition of reports of child abuse and neglect received by the department;
- information on the number of clients for whom the department took protective action, including investigations, alternative responses, and court-ordered removals;
- information on the number of clients for whom the department provided services in each program administered by the child protective services division, including investigations, alternative responses, family-based safety services, conservatorship, post-adoption services, and transitional living services;
- the number of children in this state who died as a result of child abuse or neglect;
- the number of children described by Subdivision (4) for whom the department was the children's managing conservator at the time of death;
- information on the timeliness of the department's initial contact in an investigation or alternative response;
- information on the response time by the department in commencing services to families and children for whom an allegation of child abuse or neglect has been made;
- information regarding child protection staffing and caseloads by program area;
- information on the permanency goals in place and achieved for children in the managing conservatorship of the department, including information on the timeliness of achieving the goals, the stability of the children's placement in foster care, and the proximity of placements to the children's home counties;
- the number of children who suffer from a severe emotional disturbance and for whom the department is appointed managing conservator, including statistics on appointments as joint managing conservator, due to an individual voluntarily relinquishing custody of a child solely to obtain mental health services for the child;
- the number of children who are pregnant or a parent while in the managing conservatorship of the department and the number of the children born to a parent in the managing conservatorship of the department who are placed in the managing conservatorship of the department;
- the number of children who are missing from the children's substitute care provider while in the managing conservatorship of the department; and
- the number of children who were victims of trafficking under Chapter 20A, Penal Code, while in the managing conservatorship of the department.
- To the extent feasible, the report must also include, for each county, the amount of funding for child abuse and neglect prevention services and the rate of child abuse and neglect per 1,000 children in the county for the preceding year and for each of the preceding five years.
- Not later than September 1 of each year, the department shall seek public input regarding the usefulness of, and any proposed modifications to, existing reporting requirements and proposed additional reporting requirements. The department shall evaluate the public input provided under this subsection and seek to facilitate reporting to the maximum extent feasible within existing resources and in a manner that is most likely to assist public understanding of department functions.
- In addition to the information required under Subsections (a) and (b), the department shall annually publish information on the number of children who died during the preceding year whom the department determined had been abused or neglected but whose death was not the result of the abuse or neglect. The department may publish the information described by this subsection in the same report required by Subsection (a) or in another annual report published by the department.