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Category Archives: Texas Child Protective Services

Murdered 4-Year-Old Girl Had STD; Child Services Did Nothing

Emma Thompson (

Emma Thompson (

Emma Thompson, 4, died as a result of blunt abdominal trauma.

Story contributed by Carlin Miller, an associate producer at 48 Hours | Mystery.

NEW YORK (CBS) It sickens the conscience. Yet another child is dead at the hands of her caregivers. But this time many are pointing fingers at Texas Child Protective Services, who did nothing despite knowing the murdered girl was given genital herpes and living with a man investigated three other times for cases involving children, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Abigail Elizabeth Young, 33 and her boyfriend Lucas Ruric Coe, 27, were arrested Monday and charged with felony injury to a child in connection with the June 27 death of Abigail’s 4-year-old daughter, Emma Thompson. But more evidence is coming to light that while they may be directly responsible for Emma’s death, they are not solely responsible.

Investigators have uncovered records that Texas Child Protective Services had begun an investigation into Emma’s care when she tested positive for genital herpes, but she was not removed from the home, according to the Houston Chronicle. The paper also notes that investigators discovered that Coe had been investigated three other times in the past for unrelated cases involving another girlfriend’s children.

This is one more death of a defenseless child at the hands of the very people who were supposed to protect her that has authorities and family members asking how and why this was allowed to happen. And this time it’s shining an unflattering light on the watchdogs.

In these photos taken by James Nielsen of the Houston Chronicle, Abigail Elizabeth Young, 33, and Lucas Ruric Coe, 27, leave a Houston courtroom.

Questions will be raised. Why Coe was allowed near children with the kind of history he had with Child Protective Services? And why wasn’t Emma removed immediately from the home when evidence surfaced that she was being sexually abused – for what other possible reason could a 4-year-old have genital herpes?

Some will say that Child Protective Services can’t remove every child, or that the system is overwhelmed and undermanned to handle the volume of cases. Questions will be asked about home much state funding, or lack thereof, contributed to the understaffing of a very important agency.

But one has to wonder if all this finger pointing, while justified and arguably necessary to affect change, is just a way for us to avoid asking the hardest and possibly the only question that will never be answered: how does a parent do this to their own flesh and blood?

Family wants custody of starved kids kept at hotel


DALLAS — The aunt of three emaciated children forced to spend day and night in a hotel bathroom in Texas for at least nine months said Thursday that she and their grandmother want custody of the youngsters, who were placed in foster care together.

Sonia Santiago, the sister-in-law of the children’s mother, said Abneris Santiago has been deceiving family members about her life in Texas since moving from Florida with her boyfriend in late 2006.

Abneris Santiago, 30, is charged with injury to a child, and her boyfriend, Alfred Santiago, 37, faces charges of aggravated sexual assault and continuous sexual abuse. Both were being held at the Dallas County Jail, unable to make bail. They have the same last name but are not married.

Their attorneys did not return calls Thursday. Initial court appearances are scheduled for Aug. 3.

The children — an 11-year-old girl, a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old boy — and their 1-year-old sister, who is healthy, were placed with a foster family in Texas, said Marissa Gonzales, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services. The three older children spent 10 days in a Dallas hospital before being released.

The 10-year-old boy, however, returned to the hospital recently and remains there. Gonzales declined to discuss his condition.

A status hearing is scheduled for September, Gonzales said.

“We’re still trying to work it out with CPS,” said Sonia Santiago, who lives in Lorain, Ohio. “We are just as interested in getting them as Grandma, and what is in the best interest of the kids will be what we work out. The kids, that’s all of our main focus.”

The three children, who have different fathers, and their 1-year-old sibling were found by Dallas police July 2 after Sonia Santiago and her husband, Abner, made the 1,200-mile drive from the Cleveland area. They came to check on Abner’s sister after Abneris Santiago called her mother in Tampa, Fla., saying her boyfriend was threatening to kill her and the children.

“She was crying and she said: `Mom, I cannot take no more of this monster. He is threatening me, and this monster is making my life miserable, making it a living hell,'” said Ruth Leon, Abneris’ mother.

Upon arriving in Dallas, Abner and Sonia Santiago picked up Abneris at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress, called for police assistance and then drove to the Budget Suites of America, an extended-stay hotel that sits along one of Dallas’ busiest freeways. The hotel has maid service, but it is optional and costs extra.

The 1-year-old, the daughter of Abneris and Alfred, was found in a crib. The other three were shut in the bathroom, authorities said.

It was apparent the children suffered from “serious physical, emotional and mental neglect,” according to the affidavit. The 10-year-old was covered in bruises.

Sonia Santiago did not go into the hotel room, but said her husband broke down when he returned to the car. She caught a glimpse of the children coming out.

“They were really bad,” she said, her voice faltering. “They were skin and bones.”

The 11-year-old told authorities that their mother left them with her boyfriend while she worked. She said they were allowed to leave the bathroom only when he took a shower and that they were regularly beaten and rarely fed.

“The older children talked about hiding food in their pockets or in shampoo bottles because they weren’t sure they would be fed again,” Gonzales said.

The girl told authorities she had been sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend for at least three years. She described numerous rapes and said she was forced to perform oral sex on him. She also said the boyfriend threatened to kill her if she told her mother.

Gonzales said the children were “very skinny and dirty and unkempt.” The 11-year-old told authorities the children has been forced to stay in the bathroom since October, with one sleeping in the tub and two sharing the floor. It wasn’t clear if they had been there since 2007 or 2008.

Sonia Santiago said she believed they had been at the hotel for about 18 months. She said her sister-in-law and her boyfriend moved from Florida to Dallas nearly three years ago, ostensibly to care for Alfred Santiago’s ailing mother.

“At this point, I don’t believe anything she’s ever said,” Sonia Santiago said.

In an interview from jail, Alfred Santiago said he did nothing wrong and he considers himself the victim. He said the three children were a danger to his daughter and accused them of pouring urine on the baby.

“The one who is being disrespected right now is I, because I’m the one who’s being abused,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “What I was doing is protecting my baby daughter from her kids. What I did was I did not leave my daughter out of my sight.”

He also told the newspaper that the children were to blame for their poor health because of their refusal to eat “mountains of rice, of chicken, of pork chops, of hot dogs.”

“They were skinny because they were not eating the food,” he said. “I’m not ashamed to say it, I was feeding them, but they were not eating their food.”

Foster Child Death Update –

Action Ten News has received new information about the Alice foster family who had a two-year-old girl die under their watch Monday.

Child Protective Services told Action 10 News on Thursday that the foster parents are licensed to care for children with medical needs. Two-year-old Jenesis Gomez suffered from treacher colis syndrome, only allowing her to eat and breathe through a tube.

The foster family is also licensed to care for up to six children. They currently have two children.

In 2008, the family was cited for leaving their children in the care of nurses and home health care providers.

Jenesis was only in the foster family’s care for four days before she died.

The foster family received Jenesis from a hospital where she was being treated for an infection in the tube that allowed her to eat and breathe. While at the hospital, she tested positive for cocaine.

Before being taken to the hospital, Jenesis was in the care of a biological aunt who had been recently arrested for possession of a controlled substance, according to the Child Protective Service’s removal affidavit.

Jenesis’s biological mother, Ashley Silva, told Action Ten News Wednesday that she believes her daughter’s death is the foster family’s fault. She said she was told that Jenesis had pulled out her own trache tube. Silva said she refuses to believe that.

“She did not do that,” Silva said. “She knows to protect herself. She knows that’s her airways.”

Residential Child Care Licensing, a division under the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, is investigating the foster family. Child Protective Services is also under the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.


Two-Year-Old Dies Under Foster Care –


Child Protective Services is investigating a family whose foster child died Monday.

The biological mother blames CPS for putting her two-year-old little girl into the wrong hands, but why the child was placed in CPS in the first place may offer another point of view.

Two-year-old Jenesis Gomez was born with treacher collins syndrome, a disease characterized by facial deformities. Before she died Monday, she depended on a tube to eat and breathe.

Jenesis’s mother, Ashley Silva, said she was told that the toddler removed her own tube on Monday. Silva said she refuses to believe this.

“She did not do that,” Silva said. “She knows to protect herself. She knows that’s her airways.”

Silva said she believes it is the foster family’s fault because she thinks they did not help Jenesis get her tube back in.

“If they were there to assist her, she would have been alive,” Silva said. “I know it. I’m telling you.”

Even if Jenesis was still alive, though, it’s likely she would be with a foster family. During Jenesis’s short life, she has lived with various family members, many of whom have been arrested for drugs.

In fact, the toddler herself tested positive for cocaine less than two weeks ago. Doctors discovered this when she was at Driscoll Children’s Hospital for an infection to her trach tube. Jenesis was then placed with a foster family upon being released from the hospital.

She was only with the family for four days before she died.

Action Ten News asked CPS how the baby could have died under state care. John Lennan, a public information officer for Child Protective Services, replied that the child was medically fragile.

CPS will continue to investigate the foster family to find out what happened.

Texas is fit for foster children families

Jeff Wentworth, State Senator, District 25


The Texas Legislature took a stand during the 81st Legislative Session to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens: foster children.

Along with numerous bills to expand benefits for children in the foster care system, the Legislature passed a budget that provides a three percent increase in reimbursement payments for foster parents.

In Texas, more than 25,000 children are in state custody, 6,000 of whom are eligible for adoption. Research has demonstrated numerous benefits for children who are placed in the care of a relative, and several bills were passed this session to encourage such placement.

In addition to the pay increase for foster parents, kinship providers who are eligible to receive permanency care benefits will now receive monthly payments from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), as established by Senate Bill 2080. The bill also allows for reimbursement of up to $2,000 in non-recurring expenses incurred by a kinship provider while obtaining permanent managing conservatorship of a child.

Senate Bill 1723 requires DFPS to develop informational manuals for voluntary caregivers providing temporary care for children who are the subject of an investigation by the agency. The manuals must include information about the caregiver’s role and how to obtain any documentation necessary to provide for the child’s needs.

A new set of challenges appears when youth transition out of the foster care system at age 18, many lacking the resources and experience needed to live on their own, such as managing a bank account or obtaining housing and employment. Research shows a high risk of negative outcomes for these children, including poverty, homelessness, or incarceration.

Although DFPS attempts to prepare foster children for adult living, improvements are needed. House Bill 1912 lowers the age for transitional living services from 16 to 14 and requires DFPS to assess each youth’s individual needs. The agency must develop a plan to ensure youth receive the documents they need to live independently, such as driver’s licenses, identification cards, birth certificates, and Social Security cards.

Youth leaving foster care may also need additional time and support before realizing the benefits of higher education. For this reason, Senate Bill 43 extends the maximum age from 21 to 25 for a student who has been in foster care to enroll in an institution of higher education and receive a tuition and fee exemption. The bill also encourages foster children to participate in dual credit programs in high school.

To assess the many other needs and challenges within Texas’ foster care system, House Bill 2225 establishes an adoption review committee, which will work with DFPS over the next two years to perform an extensive review of the system.

Thousands of Texas children await a loving home. While these bills reflect the Legislature’s commitment to protecting foster children, more must be done to encourage adoption and kinship care placements. If you are interested in learning about foster care, kinship care, or adoption, helpful resources may be found at

Former CPS Worker Arrested


Brandy Wilcox Charged With Possession Of Controlled Substance


Brandy Wilcox

POSTED: Tuesday, July 7, 2009

UPDATED: 6:29 pm CDT July 7, 2009

HOUSTON — A former Child Protective Services worker is accused of buying drugs from undercover police officers, KPRC Local 2 reported Tuesday.

Brandy Wilcox, 40, was arrested at a gas station on North Main and the North Freeway near downtown Houston Tuesday at about 10:30 a.m. and charged with possession of a controlled substance.

METRO police said they found crack cocaine and other drug paraphernalia when she was taken into custody.

CPS said Wilcox worked at the agency from March until late June. She was terminated for excessive tardiness and absences from work, officials said.

“We had no indication that this was happening,” CPS spokeswoman Estella Olguin said. “She had only been employed here about 59 or 60 days.

Olguin said there are no concerns of mistreatment to clients.

“Since she was a probationary worker, they were just transitioning cases to her, and she still wasn’t at a point where she was solely responsible for the 17 cases she had on her caseload,” she said. “She still had others helping her.”

She passed the normal background check and drug screening.

Two others were arrested along with Wilcox.

Watch the video here, I recognize the CPS spokes person in this video as being involved in another case.  In that case a baby in foster care had a severe diaper rash that could have killed her and this “spokes person” acted like it was no big deal.  I will find the video and put it on here later today.

San Antonio police sort out killings of 3 from Texas City

By ROBERT CROWE San Antonio Express-News

July 7, 2009, 10:03AM

By most accounts, the volatile relationship between punk rocker Courtney Gass and rap producer Christopher Allgood should have ended months ago.

It was filled with violence against each other long before Gass, their 2-year-old daughter Anika, and their 26-year-old friend Kevin Bones were found fatally shot inside the couple’s North Side apartment early Sunday morning, according to police and family court records.

Allgood, 30, has been charged in Gass’ death, but authorities are still unsure whether the former Texas City resident killed Anika and Bones, in part, because of a startling confession — one that he repeated to reporters as he was ushered to jail.

“She told me that she did it,” Allgood said, blaming his girlfriend.

Police declined to discuss details of the case Monday, only to say the investigation was ongoing.

“We are looking into all possibilities,” said Officer Joe Rios, a San Antonio Police Department spokesman.

In what initially appeared to be an open-and-shut case, with Allgood arrested outside the apartment with rifle in hand, the police investigation has turned into a lengthy, complicated one that has police studying ballistics and other evidence before filing any additional charges.

Meanwhile, Gass’ friends and family are furious that Allgood’s allegation has stalled the investigation. They admit Gass was troubled, but that she would never hurt Anika.

“He’s a coward who’s afraid of admitting that he killed his own innocent little daughter,” said Gass’ mother, Judy Bradley.

But Allgood’s friends say — and police and Children’s Protective Services records indicate — that Allgood wasn’t the only one conflicted. Gass — who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had a history of drug addiction — had shown streaks of violence, too.

Gass, 26, was charged with assaulting Allgood on June 22 following another day of heavy drinking. According to the police report, he had multiple lacerations on his face after she hit him repeatedly with closed fists.

“I don’t think Chris would lie about that,” said Matthew Perez,

Allgood’s friend and the manager of his rap group, Committee of Majority. “Courtney was so crazy sometimes.”

But friends say Gass was more often the victim in the relationship.

“There are so many times he left bruises on her face and police were never called,” Bradley said.

Friends and family said Bones, a Texas City resident, was visiting the couple for the night on a trip to Corpus Christi to visit his mother. Mutual friend Michael Humphrey of Galveston said Bones drove from Texas City to Austin, where he picked up a camera that Gass had left a few weeks ago following a concert.

“He was that good of a friend that he would take a little bend in his trip just to get a camera for a friend,” Humphrey said. “He was an all-around good guy.”

Allgood moved to San Antonio about 10 months ago, while Gass and Anika moved in with him three months later.

Bradley, Gass’ mother, thinks that Allgood killed her daughter because she was planning to leave him that night and move in with another friend in Austin. Bones was going to give her a ride, she said.

“I’m thinking Chris was upset that she was going to leave him,” Bradley said.

Allgood was working part-time for a local gun range, but he spent most of his time producing music for his rap group with neighbor Billy Watson.

An industrial rock enthusiast, Allgood started a relationship four years ago with Gass, a fan of punk rock, after meeting through the Galveston-area underground music scene.

Records obtained from the Texas City Police Department and CPS show that Anika was born into a home filled with chaos and domestic violence. Both have children living with other guardians.

Texas City police were called to the couple’s various homes seven times on allegations of assaults or domestic disturbances during the first year of Anika’s life. In three of those occasions, Gass was listed as a victim and Allgood as the suspect. In the four other occasions, the positions were reversed.

In July 2007, an allegation was made to the Galveston County CPS that Allgood threw a bottle at Gass as she was holding Anika. But when Gass told the CPS caseworker that she and Anika were leaving Allgood to live in a battered women’s shelter, the CPS caseworker closed the case.

Six months later in January 2008, a referral of physical neglect was made. Someone reported that Anika had a diaper rash, she was dirty and that Gass was addicted to drugs. But, caseworkers closed the case after finding minimal diaper rash and Gass’ volunteer admittance into a drug rehabilitation program that she eventually completed, according to Mary Walker, spokeswoman for Child Protective Services’ San Antonio region.

“She made some bad decisions, and yes she had been addicted to prescription drugs, but there’s no one that’s ever gonna convince me that she killed her daughter,” Bradley said.

Express-News Staff Writer Nancy Preyor-Johnson and Houston Chronicle Staff Writer James Pinkerton contributed to this story.

Arlington Father Jailed In Death Of 4-Month-Old  

Katherine Blake ARLINGTON (CBS 11 News)

A North Texas baby is sent to the hospital for the second time with skull fractures, but this time the four-month-old boy didn’t make it.

Jayden Farrington died around 8 o’clock Wednesday night. His father, Jason Farrington, 25, is now behind bars accused of first degree felony injury to a child.

Paramedics where called an apartment in the 1500 block of Stoneleigh Court in Arlington after Jayden stopped breathing. They rushed him to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth where he later died.

Arlington Police and Child Protective Services were already investigating a case from March 26, 2009 where Jayden was treated for multiple skull fractures and a fractured rib.

CPS spokesperson Marissa Gonzales says Jayden’s mother, Pavielle Monique Simpson, was cleared of any wrongdoing. Since Simpson had no prior record, she was allowed to retain custody of her baby as long as she agreed to certain conditions.

Simpson had to move out of the apartment she shared with Jayden’s father. She had to agree not to let Jason Farrington have any contact with her or their son. She also had to continue to take Jayden to his follow-up medical appointments.

Gonzales says case workers went to Simpson’s new apartment at least once to check on her. They say she appeared to be following the rules, but this is the same apartment where Jayden was fatally injured on Wednesday.

“The child had new injuries yesterday, including abdominal injuries and new skull fractures,” says Arlington Police spokesperson, Tiara Ellis Richard.

“We’re investigating the father as a perpetrator, but also the mother as a perpetrator of possible neglectful supervision and even physical abuse if she allowed the child to have contact with someone she knew was violent,” adds Gonzales.

Farrington, who is a Barbados native, is being held without bail on an immigration hold.

Area man gets 20 years in foster child’s death


By Jo Ann Eddleman Special to the Reporter-News

Thursday, June 18, 2009

COLEMAN — A Coleman man received the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison Thursday for recklessly causing serious bodily injury that led to the death of a 14-month-old foster child in his care three years ago.

A six-man, six-woman jury handed down the punishment for Charles Yarbrough, 24, after 40 minutes of deliberation.

A two-count indictment was brought against Yarbrough after the death of Lacey Lynn Nichols in 2006 — a murder count and a capital murder count. An October trial resulted in a hung jury and consequent mistrial on the murder count.

The October jury found Yarbrough guilty of a lesser charge of reckless bodily injury that led to the death of the infant from blunt force trauma to the head and brain.

However, the jury was unable to reach a decision on the punishment.

This week’s mini-trial was required by Texas law to present evidence heard at the October trial to allow a new jury to deliberate on a punishment.

The incident occurred in Coleman on Jan. 9, 2006, when the lethargic and unresponsive child was brought by ambulance to the Coleman County Medical Center.

Yarbrough told emergency room staff and authorities that the infant had choked on a toy, which he had managed to dislodge by slapping her on the back. Nichols was pronounced dead on June 12 at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

The defense argued that the extensive bruising and head trauma could have been caused by CPR or the choking incident itself, and by common, everyday toddler falls.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Bobby McCool questioned whether Nichols’ death could not be attributed to the one-in-a-million rare case that forensic science is always willing to say might happen from simple falls.

“What if this is that one-in-a-million case?” McCool asked the jury.

In his comments after the verdict, Coleman County District Attorney Heath Hemphill said Yarbrough will not be eligible for parole until actual time is served, and that any good conduct time equals one fourth of the sentence.

Yarbrough has been out on bond since the murder charges were brought against him. He was taken into the custody of the Coleman County sheriff, who will deliver him to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for incarceration.

Hemphill was guarded in his response as to whether the first count of murder that ended in a mistrial will ever go to trial again.

McCool was not available for comment.

Texas CPS ‘Bringing Back the Dads’ program aims to re-engage fathers in their children’s lives

By ALEX BRANCH abranch@star-telegram.


When police and Child Protective Services investigated whether a man’s daughter was abused by his ex-wife’s boyfriend, the father says no one called to fill him in.

In fact, he said, he struggled to find information even after he learned of the investigation.

“I couldn’t get anyone to call me back,” said Paul, whose last name is not being used to protect his children’s identity. “It felt like no one really paid attention to the fathers. It was about the mothers.”

At a time when more American children than ever live in homes without biological fathers, it is a tendency that should change, child welfare officials say.

A pilot program called “Bringing Back the Dads” strives to engage nonresident fathers with their children. The effort trains CPS workers to better reach out to fathers and offers classes to dads exploring how they can be more involved in their children’s lives.

The Fatherhood Coalition of Tarrant County and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are collaborating on the project.

Tarrant County was one of four areas in the U.S. to get a three-year, $100,000 grant from the U.S. Children’s Bureau for the program. If successful, it could be instituted nationally..

“We have a very maternal system,” said Elna Vanderberg, executive director of NewDay Services for children and families in Tarrant County, a member of the coalition. “The idea is to make a better effort to reach out to these fathers and appeal to those fathers’ hearts to understand the value they can have in their children’s lives.”

’Brighter outcomes’

One of the program’s goals is to identify obstacles caseworkers face while engaging fathers. Among the most common is finding them, said Karen Bird, who coordinates the project.

“It can be double the work to track them down and try to make contact with them,” she said.

Making the task more challenging are heavy CPS caseloads as well as time restraints set by the Legislature on how quickly decisions must be made, Vanderberg said.

Paul said he was involved in his children’s lives but still wasn’t contacted. To add to his frustrations, he said, he tried calling the police detective investigating the case and was told that his ex-wife had to first give the investigator permission to speak to him.

“I saw my kids every weekend,” he said. “But no one told me anything anyway.”

A national study of almost 2,000 children removed from homes where the father did not live found that 88 percent of the fathers were identified by caseworkers. But just more than half of the fathers were contacted.

Only about a quarter of the fathers contacted expressed interest in the child living with them, according to the National Quality Improvement Center.

This year, NewDay Services has trained 400 CPS investigators and supervisors from 19 counties in Texas on how to engage fathers, Vanderberg said. The project was launched in January 2008, but much of the first year was spent developing curriculum. The grant lasts until 2010.

Studies show that children with absent biological fathers are, on average, two to three times more likely to be poor; to use drugs; experience emotional, educational and behavioral problems; and to engage in crime.

Marissa Gonzalez, spokeswoman for CPS in Tarrant County, said the agency is hopeful that the project will result in “better, brighter outcomes for children.”

“CPS knows that outcomes for children are better when families work together for the well-being of the children,” she said. “Historically, however, much of the focus has been on mothers and not fathers.”

Fathers’ willingness

Success will greatly depend on the fathers’ willingness to participate.

Some are so removed from their children that officials say it’s like turning an aircraft carrier. Sometimes hostility between parents is so severe that the fathers feel forced aside.

“A roadblock is the mindset of some fathers in society, who seem to think they have become redundant in the lives of their children and that all that is required is to provide financial support,” Vanderberg said.

“We are telling them how important their relationships with their children are.”

The classes are voluntary and focus on nonresident fathers whose children were removed from their mother’s house by CPS. The fathers must not have criminal records.

Among other things, classes offer an overview of how the court system works, how to manage relationships with CPS and how to handle visitation, said Tommy Jordan, NewDay’s fatherhood program director.

“From the outside looking in, the system is a mystery,” Jordan said. “It can overwhelm and intimidate people. We have to overcome this and learn to capitalize on the father who is often standing right in front of us.”


Study The “What About the Dads?” national study included 1,958 children who were removed from homes where the father did not live. Telephone interviews with 1,222 caseworkers indicated that:

88 percent of nonresident fathers were identified.

55 percent of fathers were contacted by caseworkers.

30 percent of fathers visited their child.

28 percent expressed interest in their children living with them.

Source: The National Quality Improvement Center

ALEX BRANCH, 817-390-7689

Governor vetoes child-abuse bill

By Corrie MacLaggan | Friday, June 19, 2009, 06:49 PM

Gov. Rick Perry today vetoed a child-abuse bill that critics said would have violated families’ rights.

The action followed a veto campaign by a coalition of conservative, libertarian and family-rights organizations that prompted thousands of Texans to call and write the governor.

Supporters of Senate Bill 1440 said it would have helped abuse investigations by clarifying the criteria state officials must meet to get a court order to enter a family’s house, transport a child or review children’s medical records.

But opponents said it would have given Child Protective Services too much power, allowing state investigators to enter people’s homes without evidence of abuse.

Perry had received 17,373 calls and letters against the measure and 455 supporting it as of 4:30 p.m. Friday, said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for the governor.

This week, state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, the House sponsor of the bill, wrote a letter to Perry asking him to reject the bill, saying that the measure turned out to be more controversial than he expected and needs further study.

“My concern is that the bill is overreaching,” Madden said in an interview.

Perry had similar concerns. He wrote in his veto statement that a recent court decision created uncertainty that “must be addressed. Senate Bill No. 1440, however, overreaches and may not give due consideration to the Fourth Amendment rights of a parent or guardian.” Perry directed state officials to study the issue.

Senate Bill 1440 is by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. The language in question was originally part of another Watson bill, Senate Bill 1064, that was added on as an amendment.

“Unfortunately,” Watson said, “Governor Perry listened to bad advice, ignored sound, just policy and chose to veto a bill that would have helped protect the children of Texas from abuse and neglect.”

Johana Scot, executive director of the Parent Guidance Center, which helps parents involved in CPS cases, actively opposed the bill.

“It’s a very dangerous piece of legislation,” she said. “It basically strips children and parents of all their rights.”

Scot said that the bill would have cleared the way for CPS to investigate families based on false reports by people who “want retaliation … or just because they don’t like their neighbor.”

However, Jane Burstain, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, said that “there is a misunderstanding on the part of the opposition groups about what the bill does.”

She said that under the legislation, state investigators seeking a court order would have had to submit an affidavit showing “sufficient facts.”

And as for the motives of people reporting abuse, “there’s nothing (the Department of Family and Protective Services) can do to prevent improper motives,” Burstain said. “This law doesn’t change that.”

One of the opponents’ concerns is that under the bill, they say, the parent would not have gotten a hearing before CPS interviews their child.

But Burstain said that family courts aren’t currently required to give parents such hearings for the same reason that criminal courts don’t give suspected drug dealers a hearing before their house is searched.

“You don’t want to be tipping off abusers,” Burstain said. “If you tell the abuser, ‘Hey, we’re coming to your house,’ the abuser has the opportunity to coach the child, to coerce the child into lying.”


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