Child Protective Services (“CPS”) cases in Texas are covered by a relatively short timeline. The Texas Family Code provides that the case must be finalized within 12 months from the date of removal. This may be more than twelve months after the child was taken from the home if the child was placed with relatives prior to the court case and the removal was deemed voluntary. In that case, the timeline generally starts to run when CPS becomes the temporary managing conservator (“TMC”) of the child. If a party can show “extraordinary circumstances.,” the timeline may be extended by an additional six months.
If the child is removed from the home and placed into foster care without a hearing, an emergency hearing must be held the first working day after the removal. At the emergency hearing, the court decides if the emergency removal was appropriate.
Within 14 days of an involuntary removal, an adversary hearing is held to determine if CPS should be named the TMC of the child. If the placement was considered voluntary, a hearing does not usually happen within 14 days. The clock for those cases won’t start to run until the department has been appointed TMC. Sometimes this occurs months after the child is voluntarily placed with a relative or friend.
For the next several months, the parties will report in to the court every 60-90 days. The first hearing is a status hearing for the court to review the status of the case. A case can involve several status hearings. An initial permanency hearing is held approximately 180 days after removal. At the permanency hearing, the court will review the status of services for the parties and the child, review efforts to locate a family placement, determine if it is safe to return the child to the parent(s), and otherwise review the status of the case. A second permanency hearing is usually held around day 270.
Prior to trial, the parties almost always mediate. If the case does not settle at mediation, the case will proceed to trial before the twelve month deadline passes (or eighteen months, in extraordinary circumstances). At trial, the court will enter a final order that will either return the child to the parent(s), name CPS as the permanent managing conservator of the child, name a family member or friend as the permanent managing conservator of the child, or terminate the parent-child relationship.
Although twelve months can seem like a long time, it goes by very quickly in these cases. Parents are advised to begin working services immediately upon notification of a family service plan from CPS. A parent’s failure to complete services by the deadline is generally not considered an extraordinary circumstances worthy of an extension.