Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Deep in the heartless of Texas

Two cases illustrate the need for those good, bipartisan "child welfare" laws the Texas Legislature has been passing lately.

Two weeks ago I wrote about a news story concerning new laws in Texas that bolster due process for families.  In that story one lawyer pushes the idea that, “The failing in … [recently passed] laws is that the standard is so high now for a child to be removed.”  This apparently was a reference to a 2021 law tightening the definition of neglect before a child could be removed.  (None of the laws passed this year does anything to change the standard for removal.) 

The story also quoted a state legislator opposed to a new Texas law that, in most cases, replaces anonymous reporting of alleged child abuse and neglect with confidential reporting.  Said Sen. Jose Menendez: 

“None of us in this room want any child to suffer abuse or neglect. And I would hate for us to vote for a policy where the tradeoff is ... [having] a child possibly die from abuse or neglect.” 

But two recent cases illustrate that either the standard is still too low or, like so many laws intended to protect children from needless surveillance and foster care, this one isn’t being enforced.   One of the cases also makes clear that the near-ban on anonymous reporting came too late.  That case led to the ultimate tragedy.  To what should be the surprise of no one, both families are Black. 

A case in Houston 

A four-year-old is taken from her mother after they were found sleeping in their car – which was the only place they could afford to live.  This story, from KTRK-TV, gives the police version and the mother’s version.  But even if you believe the police version, this case was cause to find the family housing – not to throw the four year old into kinship foster care. 

In addition, the mother was arrested. But a condition of her release was that she not even see her child – or to put it another way: The child has been barred from seeing her mother.  What exactly did the child do wrong to deserve that? 

This seems to be a habit in Houston.  The case is remarkably similar to this one.  And this one. 

But it can get so much worse. 

A case in Harker Heights 

This is what happened in Harker Heights, a town between Austin and Waco, in  September 2022: Six children are taken away.  All of them, even the youngest, age 2, are institutionalized.  Now that child is dead.  According to KWTX-TV,  “this all happened because of a call alleging [the mother] was smoking marijuana.” KXXV-TV reports the mother passed numerous drug tests.  The television station also reports that the call setting this tragedy in motion was – anonymous. (KXXV also report there was an allegation of "violence" - but no indication there was even an allegation of violence against the children.)

And apparently the children were never in danger since, shortly after boy’s death, the Texas family police agency gave all the other children back and closed the case.

So yeah, tell us again, Texas lawyer, how “the failing in the laws is that the standard is so high now for a child to be removed.”  And tell us again, Texas lawmaker, how the "tradeoff" for banning most anonymous reporting is "[having] a child possibly die."