Child protective services officials in Texas can no longer remove a child from their family just because a parent tested positive for cannabis.
That’s one provision of a broader child welfare bill that became law recently without the signature of Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Another significant change establishes a formal definition of the term “neglect” such that a parent’s actions (or lack thereof) must result in actual harm to a child or create an “immediate” danger of harm before a child could be removed. Previously, child protective services had to show only a “substantial risk” to the child’s safety.
The definition would also require that a parent showed “blatant disregard for the consequences” on the child for their action or inaction.
Backers of House Bill 567 say the new law would help the Department of Family and Protective Services balance its duty to remove children who are in danger with the equally vital task of leaving families intact if it can be done safely.
Research shows that kids suffer trauma when they are removed from their homes for even a few months. The narrower definition of neglect and other parts of the bill represents an attempt to put Texas more in line with federal policy under the Family First Prevention Services Act. That law seeks to identify at-risk families and provide them with services and support before their problems get so bad that child protective services determine they must file for termination of parental rights.
Child advocates say the child welfare system too often conflates poverty with neglect and moves to take children away — a problem that affects Black families disproportionately. The new law also strengthens legal representation for both children and families as termination cases make their way through family court.
Under the new Texas law, parental marijuana use by itself could no longer be the basis for termination, unless the department had evidence that the parent’s heavy cannabis had caused significant impairment to the child’s physical or mental health or emotional development. Mere exposure to marijuana smoke would not present an “immediate danger” to a child.
Texas remains one of the most conservative states in the U.S. about marijuana. It allows for medicinal use of cannabis under strict conditions, but dozens of proposals to loosen restrictions in the Lone Star State fell short as the Legislature wrapped up its 2021 session.