Austin, TX – March 4, 2019, Texas became the fifth state to introduce the Safe Child Act  into the legislation. Sponsored by TX Representative Rhetta Andrews Bowers (D-Garland), H.B. 3121, the Texas Safe Child Act, joins the state of Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Utah and Hawaii where the Safe Child Act has been introduced.  

Texas’ Safe Child Act contributes to an interesting conversation at the Capitol. Texas legislators were faced two years ago with revamping the states CPS program after District Court Judge Jake ruled the state’s CPS operated in violation of constitutional rights and demanded an overhaul.

The discussion of revamping CPS opened an avenue for trauma and Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) training and more safeguards regarding domestic violence. Separate from the Safe Child Act several bills this legislative cycle  tackle expansion of domestic violence safeguards, as well as trauma and ACE training for law enforcement, CPS, judges, teachers and others; and is introduced by a myriad of legislators, both Republican and Democratic,in both the House and the Senate.

The Safe Child Act is different from the ACE and Trauma training bills. The Safe Child Act. HB 3121, resolves a few major hurdles preventing family courts in Texas from protecting the health and safety of the children they are there to protect. Texas leads the nation in in the number of filicides, when parents murder their children, that are connected to family court. Research shows the courts had a chance to try to prevent the tragedy by not allowing the batterer access to the children. As a result, many provisions of Safe Child Act ensure children’s safety and health are paramount before any other decisions in the adjudication process:

An evidentiary hearing limited to issues related to 
   family violence or abuse must be held and a determination made under 
   Section 153.004 before the court may appoint a professional who 
   provides advice or recommendations to the court. Any professional 
   subsequently appointed by the court must have substantial training 
   and experience in family violence and abuse matters to fully 
   understand safety issues, including:
                (1)  behaviors that are associated with higher 
   lethality or injury risks;
                (2)  family violence dynamics;
                (3)  effects of family violence on children;
                (4)  recognizing family violence; and
                (5)  research about batterer narratives and batterer 
   accountability.

H.B. 3121 also requires that once a finding of family violence is valid that the Court must protect the child from further trauma:

The court may not appoint joint managing conservators if 
   credible evidence is presented of a history or pattern of past or 
   present [child] neglect, abuse, family violence, or physical or 
   sexual abuse by one parent directed against the other parent,
 
 It is not in the best interest of a child for a parent 
   to have unsupervised visitation with the child if credible evidence 
   is presented of the parent’s history of a pattern of emotional abuse 
   or other behavior that is likely to cause the child to live with 
   fear and stress.

However, these finding cannot be supported by untrained professionals or pseudoscience:

The court shall consider current, valid, scientific 
   research concerning family violence and abuse when making a 
   decision in a suit. A court may not permit a practice or approach 
   that does not have a scientific basis and is not an accepted 
   practice within the specialized field of practice of family 
   violence and abuse. A professional who engages in practices based 
   on unscientific beliefs is not qualified to participate in a suit in 
   which family violence or abuse is raised during the course of the 
   suit.

 

With more than 58,000 children a year ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce in the United States, this provision is especially important to guard against higher ACE scores and a life full of trauma.

Finally, it seems Texas is ready to move forward and help place children’s health and safety first.

To support, volunteer to help pass or learn more about the H.B. 3121, the Texas Safe Child Act contact at [email protected] or follow us on social media: Twitter: @AbuseStopperTX  Facebook: fb.me/TexasStopAbuseCampaign 

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