Adoptions Attorney Leslie Barrows
What can a parent or guardian expect when CPS investigates a report of child abuse and neglect? 
 

Child abuse and neglect are serious concerns and it is the job of Child Protective Services (“CPS”) to respond to complaints alleging abuse and neglect. CPS is the administrative agency of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (“DFPS”). “The mission of The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is to protect children, the elderly, and people with disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation by involving clients, families, and communities.[i]” DFPS not only investigates matters involving children, but also reports of abuse of people 65 years and older and adults with disabilities.

We often hear about CPS on the news when something bad happens to a child, often involving a dangerous incident. For example, a recent news story reported the arrest of a mother in Wichita Falls, Texas, for endangering her child. It was reported that the mother left her four-month-old child in her car seat, in her Chevrolet Impala, with the engine running, for close to 45 minutes while shopping at Kohl’s department store. The woman was “arrested, and charged with Abandoning or Endangering a Child. CPS was called, and the child was released to another family member.[ii]

While many cases are reported to CPS, only a handful of them involve adverse action against parents.

CPS has a duty under Texas state law, to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect by parents or other members of a family or household. The woman who left her child in the car might be convicted of Abandoning or Endangering a Child, in criminal court, but her child might not necessarily be removed from her care. CPS could investigate and make a finding that the mother made a big mistake that she is not likely to do again, and the fact she left the car running and may have had the air conditioning on, could be a substantial factor in how CPS might decide what, if any action to take against the mother.

Investigations of abuse or neglect require a CPS caseworker to interview the child at the subject of the complaint. Interviews are recorded, either audio or video, at home, school or an otherwise reasonable location. Within 24 hours of an interview, the caseworker should inform the parent or guardian of their interview and nature of any allegations. When the caseworker discusses their report, the parent or guardian has an opportunity to explain any injuries, risk of abuse or safety concerns. A criminal history is also conducted to investigate any individuals involved in an abuse or neglect investigation.[iii]

CPS investigations lead to reports that indicate any action to be taken to protect the safety of a child.

CPS caseworkers may take additional steps, authorized by law, depending on the nature of the case. Most investigations are completed within 30 days. The caseworker’s confidential (not public) report records the determination, made by the caseworker and their supervisor, whether a child was abused or neglected, at risk of future abuse and neglect or is otherwise safe. CPS may elect to order Family Team Meetings, develop Safety Plans, require a Parental Child Safety Placement agreement, or remove a child from the care of the parent, guardian or family member involved in the case.

Consulting with and having a lawyer represent an individual involved in a CPS investigation is a good idea, and may be done at any time during an investigation. A family law attorney knowledgeable and skilled in CPS matters can help explain the law involved in the investigation process and as well help make an accurate record of the facts and circumstances involved in the specific case. Attorneys at The Barrows Firm receive calls and questions about CPS investigations and are able to answer additional questions and represent parents and guardians who may be the subject of an investigation.

The Barrows Firm in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, represents families with legal issues in the area of divorce and family law, as well as juvenile, criminal, probate law and estate planning. You may make an appointment to meet with an attorney in the Fort Worth or Trophy Club office by contacting The Barrows Firm through the website. The Barrows Firm is also active on social media, on Twitter and Facebook.

 

[i] Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Mission Vision and Values.

[ii] News Channel 6, Wichita Falls, Police: Woman Arrested for Leaving Child in Car, Jul. 13, 2015.

[iii] Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, A Parent’s Guide to a Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigation.

Texas child support and custody modification 

Texas child support and custody modification

The Barrows Firm Law Review is a monthly Internet radio show podcast featuring information about Texas family, criminal, juvenile, probate and estate planning law and events. Attorney Leslie Barrows is our featured host as she shares insight and information about popular areas of the law affecting many families in Texas. In this episode, Leslie walks us through common issues in Texas child support and custody modification.

Popular family law modification topics covered in this podcast interview:

  • What leads to child support modification and how complex is the process?
  • Why change the nature of the parenting relationship, custody and visitation rights?
  • Under what circumstances can you modify temporary or permanent spousal support?
  • What are the best steps to proving the obligor has changed income if they withhold payroll and bank records?
  • How do you pursue modification suits to avoid hostility among the parties?
  • Why are modification suits as or more complex than the original court action?
  • What happens if you don’t like your judge and or when you want to appeal a decision?

For more information about Texas child support and custody modification contact The Barrows Firm, P.C..

Leslie Barrows is the principal founder of The Barrows Firm in Fort Worth, Texas. In her firm’s main practice areas of family law, criminal defense and juvenile law, Leslie is consistently challenged with dynamic cases and clients. When winning is what matters, many in the Fort Worth area go to The Barrows Firm based on their reputation an winning track record over the past decade. Leslie Barrows earned her undergraduate degree from Sam Houston State University and she earned her law degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law. She is a member of numerous organizations primarily focused in Tarrant County. To speak to Leslie Barrows please call (817) 481-1583.

Student truancy is no longer a criminal offense in Texas 
 

Truancy is no longer a criminal offense, effective September 1, 2015 as Texas students go back to school.

There are more than 5 million students enrolled in public schools in the State of Texas, and many more in private schools.[i] As they go back to school this fall, fewer Texas students will face criminal penalties for truancy. Parents, teachers and students have mixed reactions to a change in the law. A social advocacy group who lobbied for a change in the law, Texas Appleseed, researched truancy in Texas and released a report, Class, Not Court: Reconsidering Texas’ Criminalization of Truancy, and among their top findings they stated in their May 2015 newsletter, “There is no evidence to support the notion that children are simply “skipping class.” Factors that have led to truancy include chronic illness, taking care of a relative, homelessness, being a victim of bullying, and having undiagnosed special education needs.[ii]

Not everyone supports the change in the law, removing criminal penalties and consequences for truancy. Dallas County Commissioner, Mike Cantrell believes that attendance rates are going to decrease and dropout rates will increase, as stated in a recent article in The Star Telegram[iii].

“Opponents of the new law make one good point: Requiring schools to do more to address attendance problems will cost school districts money,” the editorial stated, “That includes costs to either hire a truancy-prevention facilitator or add these duties to an existing employee.”

Truancy is no longer a criminal offense, effective September 1, 2015 as Texas students go back to school.

Where truancy is currently punishable as a class C misdemeanor, after September 1, truancy may be enforced with a civil fine. The new law concerning truancy, House Bill 2398, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 18, 2015, takes effect this year on September 1. Section 25.094 of the Texas Education Code, Failure to Attend School is no longer included in Article 4.14(g), which sets forth municipal court jurisdiction. Additionally, HB 2938 amends Chapter 45 of the Code of Criminal Procedure so that criminal charges of parents contributing to nonattendance may be dismissed by the court, and parents may be free from criminal penalties for the truancy of a child. Expunction of truancy offenses is also permitted under the change in Texas law.

The new law on truancy will reduce the dockets in criminal courts and jails, as it causes an increased workload on Texas schools where more work is necessary to address attendance problems. Where the threat of criminal prosecution for skipping school may have pressured students to attend class, the Texas Education Agency and its administrators now have the burden to keep students in school on their own accord.

Not everyone is happy with the change in the law, but law and policy makers feel this is right for Texas.

Without the teeth of the threat of criminal punishment, many educators worry about exponentially increasing drop-out rate increases. Meanwhile, the author of the law, state Rep. James White, says, “You have to ask yourself a question. Is that necessarily a reason to criminalize being absent from school? Because someone says or believes the drop-out rate is going to increase?[iv]

The Texas Appleseed group, in their research, found more than 115,000 truancy cases were filed in 2013, more than all other states combined. The group’s executive director, Deb Fowler, does not agree that criminal prosecution for truancy has any impact on attendance. “There is absolutely no evidence – zero research – that supports such a punitive approach to chronic absence or attendance problems,” she said. “In fact, there is research that shows that court-based interventions are largely ineffective as an intervention.[v]

The Barrows Firm can offer additional information about the new law and help with truancy expunctions.

The Barrows Firm in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, represents families with legal issues in the area of divorce and family law, as well as juvenile, criminal, probate law and estate planning. The Barrows Firm attorneys covering juvenile legal matters, such as truancy, can help students and parents with truancy cases and court issues. You may make an appointment to meet with an attorney in the Fort Worth or Trophy Club office by contacting The Barrows Firm through the website. The Barrows Firm is also active on social media, on Twitter and Facebook.

[i] Texas Education Agency, Enrollment Trends, 2013-2014 November 2014 PDF

[ii] Texas Appleseed, May 2015 Newsletter, Truancy Reform Efforts

[iii] The Star Telegram, Editorials, Under new law, truancy is not criminal, Jul. 13, 2015.

[iv] The Texas Tribune, Schools, Courts Worry About New Truancy Law, By Terri Langford, Jul. 12,2015.

[v] See HNiv above.

Family law attorney joins The Barrows Firm 

The Barrows Firm, which has offices in Tarrant and Denton counties, has added another dedicated advocate for families confronting legal issues.

Lyndsay A. Newell, a 2012 Texas Wesleyan University School of Law graduate, joined the firm as an Associate Attorney May 26. In addition to her law degree, Newell also holds a Master of Science in Child and Family Studies from The University of Tennessee – Knoxville. She will specialize in family law.

Leslie Barrows founded The Barrows Firm in 2006. It is a full-service law office based in Fort Worth, with respected attorneys engaged in criminal, civil and family court cases.

Newell was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 2012. She is experienced in family law, real estate, appellate law and general civil litigation. She also was a judicial intern in The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth in 2012 and 2013.

“Lyndsay’s detail-oriented nature and experience in the appellate courts give her a firm understanding of family law. But, it’s really her empathy for clients and her passion for representing them vigorously in the courtroom that make her a great addition to our team,” Leslie Barrows said. “No doubt about it – she’s the attorney you want in your corner.”

Newell also is a member of the American Inns of Court, the State Bar of Texas’ Family Law Section, the Tarrant County Bar Association and the Tarrant County Family Law Bar Association.

Tarrant County child abuse cases take all forms 
 
Adoption-Day

National Adoption Day 2014

The recent newspaper headline was alarming: “Tarrant County leads Texas in Child Abuse Cases.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram went on to report that the number of child abuse victims in the county jumped from 5,689 in 2013 to 6,097 in 2014.

That’s a lot of kids and families in crisis. Experts told the newspaper that some of that increase came from growth in population; I think it’s also a result of increases in reporting.

But there’s more to the story. In all, Texas’ Family and Protective Services, or CPS, completed more than 13,000 investigations in Tarrant County in 2014, with only about 29 percent resulting in a confirmed case.

The child protection process – from the first allegation to conclusion – involves a lot of players. Barrows Firm attorneys are right there for biological parents, children and foster parents, making sure that their rights are protected.

There are three basic areas where we work: helping guide parents accused of wrongdoing; acting as a court-appointed ad litem attorney for children; and completing adoptions where parental rights have been severed.

Many of the calls we get in this area are from parents who have had a knock on the door or a call from a CPS investigator. They’re panicked. What do they do? Who can help them?

This process isn’t something families should face alone.

We have a working relationship with a lot of CPS investigators and supervisors. They are dedicated individuals, but they’ve also seen a lot of people lie over the years. CPS investigators are often looking for inconsistencies- even something as small as tripping up on recalling a date or time of day can spell trouble.

An attorney by your side can help you feel more confident. It also helps you know that what you’re being told about state laws and how they apply to your case is the whole picture.

Most of the cases we see end up with a correction plan and don’t go to court. For those that do end up before a judge, our attorneys often take on the role of the eyes and ears of the court as the attorney ad litem for a child. After being appointed as the attorney ad litem, we connect with the children wherever we can, monitoring parental visits, and reporting back to the court on what should happen.

If all of the corrective plans haven’t worked, CPS terminates parental rights and we can also become involved then. That sad conclusion to the CPS case can still lead to a happy ending for the child with an adoption to a loving “forever family.”

Adoptions are my favorite kind of family case and they’re why I’ve been on the Tarrant County committee for National Adoption Day since 2007. It’s a day when families come together dressed in their Sunday finest to have their adoptions of foster children finalized at the Family Law Center in downtown Fort Worth. Last year, 65 children were adopted during the celebration and this year’s event, planned for Nov. 20, promises to be just as big.

I’ll be there – happily watching as these children move past the unfortunate statistics and start a new life.

TCBA Solo Small Firm Section Mixer 
 

The Tarrant County Bar Association Solo Small Firm Section Mixer is Tuesday, May 19th 2015, starting at 5:00p.

The May 2015 TCBA Solo Small Firm Section Mixer is being hosted by The Barrows Firm, P.C. at 500 E. Belknap, Fort Worth, TX  76102

To RSVP, contact Sherry Jones at the Tarrant County Bar Association Office.

E:  sherry@tarrantbar.org

P:  817-338-4092

As heard on The Ticket… 
 

Ticket logoRecently, The Barrows Firm recorded radio spots on The Ticket. It was exciting to hear them on the radio for the first time.

What’s more gratifying, however, is helping those who are going through a tough time.

Click to hear The Barrows Firm’s commercials on Divorce and Criminal Charges.

If you need legal help, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

817.481.1583

Teen Court Teaches Life Lessons 
 

Susie got caught stealing from Walmart. Johnny got busted for drinking at a high school party.  Jane sped through a stop sign – without a driver’s license.

Good kids make bad decisions.

I see it all the time – both in my law practice and in my role as a teen court judge. I also see a lot of unhappy parents who are concerned that their child’s criminal conduct will adversely affect their future.

Six years ago, I began volunteering as a judge for Metroport Teen Court, an innovative program that gives juveniles the opportunity to keep Class C misdemeanors off their record. The program, which is funded by the cities of Colleyville, Grapevine, Keller and Southlake, allows juvenile defendants to have their fate decided by a jury of their peers and to “pay off” their citations through community service.

Teen court is under the supervision of an adult judge – myself and several other lawyers who volunteer their time – but the rest of the judicial process is youth-driven.

Take the case of Susie, Johnny and Jane (all hypotheticals.) Susie was charged with theft under $50, Johnny picked up a citation for being a minor in possession of alcohol, and Jane was ticketed for driving without a license.

All pleaded guilty and agreed to enter the Metroport Teen Court program and have their punishment assessed by fellow teens who, previously, found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

On the day of their trials – which are held on Tuesday evenings at Southlake DPS Headquarters – juvenile defendants arrive to court with a parent or guardian.

Metroport Teen CourtVolunteer prosecutors and defense attorneys – youths from area schools who are considering careers in criminal justice – question them on the witness stand about their conduct, what kind of punishment they received at home, and whether they have accepted responsibility for their actions.

Sometimes parents are also called to the witness stand to testify.

After hearing all the testimony, a jury of their peers deliberates their punishment – which always includes community service (sometimes as many as 80 hours) and serving as a juror on future teen court trials. In some cases, the jury also orders the defendant to write an essay or attend alcohol or tobacco awareness classes.

And while the jury’s verdict is respected, the judge can – and often does – add more conditions or community service hours if warranted. A stern lecture from the judge is also not uncommon.

If the teen successfully completes their community service and the conditions of their sentence, the ticket will be dismissed and it will not appear on their record.

Over the years, I have presided over all kinds of teen court cases, including criminal mischief, curfew violations, vandalism, possession of drug paraphernalia, public intoxication, theft and disorderly conduct.

Some defendants cry, others lie. But I believe that all take something away from the program – a life lesson that, hopefully, will deter them from repeating their mistakes.

Later this month, a reception will be held at Southlake DPS Headquarters, recognizing the Metroport Teen Court program and a volunteer judge. I was honored to have received the Metroport Teen Court Judge Award in 2013.

Over the years, I’ve watched the Metroport Teen Court program expand and evolve. It has also been effective.

Not only does the program hold teens accountable for their actions, but it also teaches them about the justice system and giving back to the community.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to make sure that these juveniles don’t appear again in this court – or any other.

 For more information about the Metroport Teen Court, please visit their website at www.metroport-teencourt.org or call 817-748-8346.

—Leslie Starr Barrows

 

A look ahead: Later this month, Leslie Starr Barrows and two other legal experts will speak to the Texas A&M Criminal Law Society about the juvenile justice system. The goal of the Texas A&M Criminal Law Society is to educate students who are interested in working in criminal law on the practical issues they may face as attorneys by learning from the experience of current professionals.

Crusading for Komen 
 

Life isn’t about the destination. It’s about what you did on the journey.

Giving back to the community is very important to me. I am especially passionate about causes that help women and children.

Recently, an acquaintance reached out to see if I would be interested in serving on the board of directors for Susan G. Komen Greater Fort Worth, which is gearing up for their largest fundraiser next month. The 23rd Annual Race for the Cure – a walk-run that will be held on April 25 at Ridgmar Mall – raises funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer, celebrates breast cancer survivors and honors those who have lost their lives.

I have friends in the legal community who have been stricken with breast cancer. I have seen first-hand the devastation and destruction caused by the disease.  So helping and supporting this organization just felt right.

This week, I was officially elected to Komen Greater Fort Worth’s board of directors, a position I am honored to hold. Since 1992, Komen Greater Fort Worth has raised over $22 million to provide services, education and outreach to the local community.

But there is still much work to be done. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get started. How about you?

–Leslie Starr Barrows

For more information about Race for The Cure and how to you can help, please visit Komen Greater Fort Worth’s website at komengreaterfortworth.org or call 817-735-8580.

From There to Here… 
 

Eight years ago, I was working out of my house, primarily handling traffic tickets.

Today, I operate a full-service law firm in downtown Fort Worth with a 6-member staff that includes four attorneys and two paralegals.

The road from there to here was bumpy at times. Juggling a legal career and a family – including a husband and three young boys (yes, I said three) – is not always rainbows and roses.

But I worked hard, took chances and figured out what I wanted, sometimes by realizing what I didn’t.

Over the years, I have worked by myself, at a law firm, and shared an office building with a group of women attorneys. At the last place, my associate attorney and I actually shared a desk.

Not exactly ideal.

For years, I have had my eye on a charming white office on Belknap Street in downtown Fort Worth, which was walking distance from the three courthouses where I spend much of my time. In 2013, I called the landlord and he offered me a good deal.

I was in – and there was plenty of room to grow.

500-e-belknap-fort-worth-texasRecently, I brought another paralegal and two more attorneys  – Sherry Armstong and Drew Kaldenbach – on board.

Everyone gets along. Everyone is excited to come to work every day.

We are all at the right place at the right time.

We are a firm – The Barrows Firm – but already it feels like more. It feels like family.

 –Leslie Starr Barrows