It’s what many Texans remember about summers as a child; there’s no relief from the Texas heat like playing in the sprinkler.
But for the Bright family of Tomball, a summer sprinkler session led to an ordeal involving Child Protective Services, a baseless prosecution and—eventually—a fine against the agency for misconduct.
In July of 2018, Melissa Bright let her 5-month old and 2-year-old play in the sprinkler. As she helped her 2-year-old daughter change, her 5-month-old son fell from his chair—a fall of about 19 inches. Like many young moms, Melissa panicked and called 9-1-1.
At the hospital, the child abuse prevention team said the mom’s explanation was likely. But the next day, an MRI revealed a smaller, second fracture and some bleeding on the brain, which the team said could be “consistent with child abuse.” The truth, it turned out, wasn’t child abuse—it was a rare blood clotting disorder.
But until that diagnosis was made, the Brights were treated as abusers. A CPS supervisor said the kids would have to live with a grandmother, more than an hour away. The placement was far from ideal. The 5-month-old, medically fragile, proved too much for the grandmother to care for full-time. But CPS dragged its feet on approving alternatives, and the Brights did what they needed for their son’s health—they brought him home.
And indeed, once back in the care of his parents, he thrived. When the caseworker, Lavar Jones, texted to ask how the child was, Melissa sent photos of the happy, healthier infant. The next day, Jones filed for emergency custody of the children, leaving out pertinent medical information. The children were removed that night.
Weeks later, Houston Judge Mike Schneider was incredulous at the injustice of the proceedings.
“It is not possible,” Schneider said from the bench, “to look at the facts and imagine that the agency actually felt there was any sort of urgent need for protection to remove the children.”
Instead of upholding the CPS orders and action, Schneider levied an unprecedented fine against he agency of $127,000.
The Bright family’s case shows that reforms are needed in the CPS reporting system. The family testified before a House committee on Tuesday, March 19 regarding House Bill 2134, which seeks to reform the role of those child abuse teams in hospitals. The bill would guarantee parental rights by ensuring that cases can be referred to specialists knowledgeable in complex and underdiagnosed conditions that are often mistaken for child abuse, and that medical determinations are peer-reviewed by neutral third parties.
The Bright family is back together now, and the children are flourishing. It’s up to the Legislature to ensure that more families have the opportunity to grow together, without the kind of unwarranted interference that could have separated the Bright family forever.