New Law Seeks to Protect Texas Parents
Accused of Child Abuse
On Friday, June 18th, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed into law Texas Senate Bill 1578, a fresh piece of legislation which will require CPS workers and family courts to examine greater amounts of medical evidence before a court is able to remove a child from their parents due to accusations of abusive conduct.
The new law comes on the heels of a 2019 investigation initiated by the Houston Chronicle and NBC which explored the circumstances of parents accused of child abuse based on faulty or insufficient medical reports. In addition to requiring more sufficient medical evidence of abuse, Texas Senate Bill 1578 requires that a state commission examine the work of the state-funded physicians who identify child abuse on a clinical level. The state commission will also suggest methods for enhancing the processes that Texas CPS workers adhere to as they correspond with the doctors administering the medical reports.
Sponsors and advocates of the bill cite the gratuitous traumas families endure when false removals are made by CPS, which are frequently a result of faulty, incomplete, or inaccurate medical reports. The bill’s authors are determined to rely on greater precision when removals must be made by Child Protective Services, and with a more thorough and structured review process when it comes to medical evidence of abuse, that may finally be possible.
The 2019 reporting done by NBC News and the Houston Chronicle zeroed in on how child abuse pediatricians make their evaluations, along with the subsequent consequences of these evaluations. Child abuse pediatricians are becoming more common amongst the physician class, and they typically work in unison with state child welfare agencies to help courts make crucial determinations on the fitness of accused parents/guardians in potential abuse cases. These pediatricians review medical images and witness statements to decide whether a given child’s injuries were accidental or caused by abusive behavior of a parent or guardian.
Children are an exceptionally vulnerable group of people, especially those too young to speak, so while the work of these pediatricians has undoubtedly saved countless children from further exposure to dangerous domestic conditions, certain medical reports have led to unjust removals of children from their parents. Unclear medical evidence which elicits a mistaken or overstated diagnosis of child abuse can be unnecessarily traumatic for a family and cause undue stress or feelings of persecution.
This new law will allow caregivers accused of abuse based on a doctor’s report to request that CPS garner additional medical opinions from doctors with relevant expertise for the child’s injuries. Also, if the parents/caregivers choose to secure a second medical opinion independent of CPS, the new law makes it mandatory for judges to review and consider that evidence before issuing state custody orders for the children.
While Texas child advocacy groups have expressed their fairly uniform support of the new law and its overall initiative, there are some concerns that have been raised by child abuse pediatricians, who have cautioned legislators that the process of gathering additional medical opinions would prolong a child’s exposure to dangerous familial circumstances. In spite of these concerns, the law passed with massive bipartisan support in both chambers of the Texas Legislature. If you or someone you know has concerns about the safety of a child or questions about this new law and its consequences for families accused of child abuse, please reach out to us at Soyars & Morgan Law immediately.