Texans believe in second chances. That goes for families, too—even to parents whose past mistakes led to the involuntary termination of their parental rights.
And a bill before the Texas House could give them their rights back and restore their families, if they turn their lives around and live up to their obligations. House Bill 2926 by state Rep. Tan Parker would allow specific interested parties to file for reinstatement of the parent-child relationship in certain circumstances.
Often, this is the best outcome we could hope for. An analysis of data obtained from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Texas ranked second behind California for the highest number of total terminations of parental rights between 2010 and 2018. In 2018, there were more than 5,500 terminations of parental rights in Texas for a rate of 7.53 per 10,000 child population. Many of these terminations involved children in the foster care system.
Approximately 1,200 youth will age out of the Texas foster care system each year without finding a permanent home. This lack of permanency is accompanied by a variety of negative health, educational, and economic outcomes, including a greater risk of involvement with the criminal justice system. House Bill 2926 adds another tool to the toolbox for achieving permanency for youth at risk of aging out.
The process created by House Bill 2926 is new to Texas, but it is not new from a national perspective. Currently, almost half of all states have a legal process for reinstating previously terminated parental rights. But not Texas.
We know that here, as elsewhere, the termination of parental rights doesn’t always break the parent-child bond. Some families continue to cultivate relationships post-termination, a situation commonly seen in cases involving substance abuse, with one study finding 94% of children whose parents had their parental rights terminated feel somewhat or very close to at least one biological family member.
Additionally, many children who run away from foster care attempt to reunite with their birth family—indicating that familial connections remain strong even after separation.
Reinstatement can be the answer, when a parent has rehabilitated and can provide a safe and stable home, and both parties—the child and the parent—wish to reunite and re-establish their legal relationship.
Of course, reinstatement is not appropriate in all cases, and HB 2926 is structured in such a way to allow courts to determine when reinstatement is an appropriate permanency option. Under the bill, a petition for reinstatement may be brought by the Department of Family and Protective Services, a single source continuum contactor responsible for a child in a community-based care region, an attorney ad litem for a child, or a parent whose rights were terminated.
Once a petition has been filed, it triggers a hearing in which the court examines evidence to determine if reinstatement of rights is appropriate and in the child’s best interests. The court also has the option to defer granting the petition and order a trial; in the interim, the department remains the managing conservator while the child is placed with the parent under supervision for a period of six months. This would allow the department to provide services to the family to ensure a successful transition before a final decision is made regarding full reinstatement of rights.
As thousands of Texas children await adoption and move ever closer to aging out of foster care without finding a permanent, loving home, there is a critical need to expand permanency options for children in state custody.
Parents who have successfully turned their lives around and demonstrated an ability to care for their children deserve a second chance. HB 2926 recognizes that redemption is possible and provides an opportunity to restore families, safely and successfully.