Today, the Texas Public Policy Foundation announced the launch of the Right for Families campaign and associated Liberty Action Agenda items in anticipation of the 88th Legislative Session set to convene in January 2023. This campaign will be working to enact public policy solutions that promote free and flourishing families so that they are able to reach their full potential, and to recognize the nuclear family as the foundational unit of human prosperity.

“The relationship between a parent and child is one of the most unique and important institutions in history,” said Andrew Brown, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Child & Family Policy. “Right for Families exists to protect and advance the institution of the family because healthy, strong Texas families are essential for a healthy, strong Texas.”

TPPF’s Right for Families Liberty Action Agenda priorities are:

Reform Foster Care Licensing and Regulation: Texas foster children are again sleeping in offices and hotel rooms because the state lacks a sufficient number of homes for them. This is due, in part, to the overregulation of nonprofit and charitable organizations that recruit and support foster homes. Ensuring that no Texas child enters foster care without a safe, supportive home to go to will require the legislature to reform standards governing the licensing and oversight of community-based foster care service providers.

Expand Community-Based Care: Texas is in the midst of transforming its foster care system by giving greater responsibility for caring for children to local private and nonprofit charitable organizations. Regions of the state operating under this new community-driven model are already outperforming the old, state-run system. Creating a safer, more responsive foster care system requires Texas to continue expanding this proven community-driven model to every region of the state.

Require a Guilty Verdict Before Listing Individuals in the Central Registry: The child abuse and neglect central registry is a government-run database of individuals believed to have abused or neglected a child. Although listing on the registry carries severe penalties, including the denial of employment opportunities, a person can be listed based solely on an accusation and without ever being found guilty in a court of law. Texas must reform its child abuse and neglect central registry by prohibiting the listing of individuals prior to a court hearing determining their guilt or innocence.

Expand Service Options for Families: Families involved with the child protection system are required to complete services as a precondition of being reunited with their children. Currently, families can only access services through providers who have contracts with the state, which limits the availability of services and makes it more difficult for parents working to do the right thing for their children. Texas can increase the availability and quality of services by providing families with greater flexibility in obtaining required services from a provider of their choice who best meets their unique needs.

End Hidden Foster Care: Under Texas law, the state may only remove a child from his or her family with a court order. However, the state frequently gets around this requirement by coercing scared parents into so-called “voluntary” agreements using thinly veiled threats to take their children away. It is unknown exactly how many children every year are temporarily removed from their families in this way due to a lack of clear data, but it is estimated that the number of children in the “hidden foster care” system is equivalent to the number in the formal system. Texas should protect parents’ due process rights, end the coercive nature of so-called “voluntary” agreements, and require more transparency, reporting and data on these arrangements.

Reform CPS Reporting Laws: False reports of child abuse and neglect cause harm to innocent families and waste valuable resources that should be focused on protecting children. Texas can reduce the number of false and malicious reports by repealing laws that allow for anonymous reporting. Professionals who are legally required to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect should receive training on alternatives to filing a CPS report and permitted to refer struggling families to community service providers who can help, rather than CPS.

Define “Best Interest of the Child”: In every case involving children, courts are required to make decisions based on the “best interest of the child” standard. Texas law lacks a clear definition of this term, however, leading to ambiguity and inconsistency in outcomes. The Texas Legislature should address this problem by providing a clear, overarching definition of “best interest of the child” for courts to apply.

Grant Adoptees Access Original Birth Certificates: Adult adoptees in Texas lack access to their original birth certificates unless they can successfully petition a judge in their birth county to grant them access. There are many reasons adoptees would want to obtain their original birth certificate, including understanding their origins, connecting with family, and learning vital information about family medical history. Only nine states allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth records, while the rest have varying levels of restrictions.

Assess the Impact of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Foster Care: Reports indicate that the recent influx of unaccompanied migrant children at the southern border is contributing to a reduction in available placements for domestic foster children. TPPF will determine the extent of impact the border crisis is having on the Texas foster care system and propose reforms to ensure that no Texas foster child is denied a safe, stable placement.

Protect children from gender modification. The performance of gender-modification procedures on children (minors under the age of 18), including surgical procedures as well as the prescription of puberty-blocking medications and cross-sex hormones, is harmful to children and should be prohibited by the State of Texas. Recognizing that this is a complex issue impacting vulnerable children and their families, the state should focus its efforts on curtailing medical practices.