Okay so talking about the scenario where a parent could actually lose their parental rights to their only child. 

Here is an example case that happened in 2018, but the ultimate decision was rendered in 2019. This is exactly what you see when there’s the state of Texas filing a brief on behalf of CPS to try to remove the child–this is the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services–that’s CPS filing a brief to remove parental rights.

What are the facts? The “…parental rights to their son N.G. were terminated…” after a trial before the court. It is s said that the mother had been released from jail only a few weeks after the father had been arrested for robbery. So we’ve got two parents with criminal history, and the Department made the decision to remove the child after the child tested positive for methamphetamine and after the mother refused on several occasions to take a drug test from CPS.

When CPS offers to take a drug test, and what we saw and learned when reading these briefs, is that CPS counts that as an automatic positive result. If you refuse a drug test, it’s going to be in that sense as damaging as if you had just taken it and tested positive. It’s actually more damaging, in this case, to refuse it because the Department will mark down that you were not being cooperative which ultimately can lead to the court deciding to terminate your parental rights as a factor in that decision.

This brief that was submitted by the department to try to remove the parental rights also said that the mother had a lack of coping skills. When you read this brief, you get a picture that we’re not just talking about a person who has a drug problem and a criminal history. Her reactions to what the department did played a vital role in the outcome of this case.

It’s not just that the mother had an issue, dad was also an admitted drug user, he had said he did not use methamphetamines for about six months, and that he had not used marijuana for a month. So [Texas Department of Family and Protective Services] knows that he’s using marijuana in the house. They also noted, importantly, beside from the drug problem, that the house was dirty and not a good environment. When you do the interviews with CPS, they are noting down the state of your house. The state of your house cleanliness in the environment will be marked down, possibly.

Now this is a huge part of what happened in this case: mother and father were provided copies of the Service Plan. A Service Plan is when you have somebody call CPS (which is how these cases always start). A CPS caseworker shows up, they do an investigation, and often the result of that will be they’re going to set up a Service Plan for you. You are then given a checklist of things that you must do. If you decide to do those and how closely you decide to do them will play a huge role in the outcome of whether your parental rights are terminated. You need to make this Service Plan the most important checklist you’ve ever been given in your life. Regardless of all the mistakes that you may have made, this checklist is going to make a huge difference how everything proceeds from there.

If they see that you’re remorseful and that you do everything, you’re going to be in a much better position. In that case, they’re going to give you a parenting class, a psychological assessment, counseling, a drug and alcohol assessment, maintain the fact that you have to get employment, give you random drug testing, and tell you visitations will be supervised with your child. You need to do all of those.

[CPS] listed everything that she did not do as reasons to the court. This is the document that CPS sent to the court. The court is going to make its decision–the judge is making a decision whether your parental rights are terminated. [CPS] cited all these things. This, again, is the citation that says “…failure to appear for a drug test was an “automatic positive””. That’s how CPS treated it. They always say “…to take responsibility…” for your actions and getting clean. It’s not how CPS finds you that results necessarily in the termination. It’s how you respond to their intervention, because they want to feel that they have intervened, helped you, and created a safe environment for the child and now can leave. They don’t want the expense and burden of taking your child! They want you to become the safe environment, and they want proof that has happened.

As for the father, he wouldn’t let [CPS] view his home and that was viewed as a point against him in this brief.

This was of high interest, which led to the end of the parental rights, as the parents knew them: N.G. (the child) had a guardian (attorney) ad litem. A guardian ad litem is usually an attorney that is going to be investigating and talking to the child. The attorney ad litem said that the child does not want to be with the parents and wants to stay in his foster placement. The child’s own preference was expressed through this, even though the child (according to this brief at the time) was four years old.

The court writes its own responsive opinion. The court takes this brief and looks at it, looks at all the evidence and then makes a final determination. What they did was they said, “Five months after N.G. was born, Father went to prison for two years…He was released…”. Then only a bit later, “…Mother went to jail.”

What they did, when the child returned positive for drugs, they removed the child from the parents and had the child go to “Grandmother”. That’s what [the court] is going to do a lot of the time with these CPS cases. They don’t want the child, whenever possible, to go to the State or to an unrelated foster parent. They want the child to go to the next of kin (an uncle, a grandfather, a grandmother, or an adult); somebody that’s old enough to do responsible caretaking for the child, since obviously wherever the child is it’s not safe.

This is what the decision of the court looks like and the discussion into the law source the court can use, according to the statutes of Texas–that it has the right to terminate parental relationship. It terminated the parental relationship. That’s a fundamental right. That power is just enormous.

Here’s the statute: “Section 161.001(b)(1)(E) allows for termination of parental rights if cleared convincing evidence supports a finding that the parent ‘engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged conduct which endangers the physical or emotional well-being of a child.’

You can have your rights terminated, if the court finds that you endangered the physical or emotional well-being of your child. That is a broad statute.

In practice, these extreme circumstances (where there’s a criminal history and the child says he doesn’t want to be there), that’s where we see it actually happened. “The psychologist who performed a psychological evaluation of Mother”–remember the mother was ordered to submit to a psychological evaluation and she does. She talked to the psychologist and the psychologist was testifying against the mother as to what happened. That should tell you if you are ordered to a psychological evaluation, whatever you say to that person is not safe! That person may be trying to make you feel safe, but what happened during those meetings resulted in the final order of parental termination, according to the Justice of the Appellate Court. That was the outcome.

It’s not one failed drug test that causes a permanent termination of parental rights. It is how you respond to CPS after it happens.

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