Child Protective Services in Texas has dropped its five-months long case against homeschooling parents who say their son was unfairly removed by the state on allegations of child medical abuse.
On Tuesday, Kaufman County Judge Tracy Gray signed an order that ended the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' cases against the Pardo family.
On June 20, Daniel and Ashley Pardo’s 4-year-old son, Drake, was taken from their home on the authority of a court order after the family missed a CPS-facilitated meeting at Dallas Children’s Medical Center that they were not informed of and was hours away from their home.
The family’s lawyers at the Texas Home School Coalition argued throughout the case that CPS failed to meet the legal requirements needed for an emergency removal and failed to notify the parents about a meeting they were ordered to attend with a child abuse pediatrician and were subsequently faulted with not attending.
A concerned doctor had reached out to CPS initially with concerns that the family was seeking medical treatment for their son even though she had never met personally with the family. The family’s lawyers also pointed out that the child was removed from the home before CPS consulted with the family’s attending physicians.
In October, the Texas Supreme Court ordered that Drake Pardo be returned to his parents.
Although the child was reunited with his parents, CPS continued to demand that the family participate in “invasive therapies” based on claims that they suffer from mental health issues. But the Pardo family’s attorney refused the CPS’ demand, which led the agency to drop its case.
“CPS and the family’s attorney both agreed that the best thing to do, at this point, was to close the case,” Jeremy Newman, director of public policy for the Texas Home School Coalition, said after the judge signed the agreement.
In a video, Ashley and Daniel Pardo thanked all those who supported them with donations, prayers and advocacy efforts.
“God has made sure we were special and God has made sure that we had the love and support that we needed to get through this,” Ashley Pardo said. “We just want to thank everybody for everything you’ve done. Please keep us in your prayers in the future. We are thankful to have our son home and we are thankful we are reunited.”
Earlier this year, The Houston Chronicle/NBC News published a series of investigative articles highlighting a Texas “legal and medical system that sometimes struggles to differentiate accidental injuries from abuse.”
“Physicians intent on protecting the most vulnerable in some instances have overstated the reliability of their findings, using terms such as ‘100 percent’ and ‘certain’ to describe conclusions that usually cannot be proven with absolute confidence,” a report in the series reads. “Child welfare workers, overworked and untrained in complex medical issues, are not always sure how to proceed when the primary evidence against a caregiver comes in the form of a doctor’s note.”
Reporters from the news outlets spent nine months examining 40 cases in Texas and interviewed over 75 attorneys and doctors as well as two dozen current and former CPS employees and union officials.
“Under this system, children are sometimes taken from seemingly caring parents, while others are left in situations that, in rare cases, turn out to be deadly,” the report reads. “Parents managed to regain custody in most of the cases reviewed by reporters, in some instances after additional medical findings or reports from outside experts raised doubts about the initial abuse determination.”
Although the Pardo family has been reunited, Newman argued that CPS workers get to walk away from the court agreement without any psychological damage while families are left to deal with the emotional aftermath of such removals.
“This is the end of the Pardo case officially but this is not the end of it for the family,” Newman said. “CPS kind of gets to walk away from this, right? It’s a little bit easier for them. But for the families in these situations, the trauma and the effect of that last.”
The boy's return home doesn’t negate the fact that it took $120,000 and a team of legal experts to defend the family against the CPS’s “baseless accusations,” a press release noted.
“As much as we are celebrating the victory, we have to also kind of stop and pause and consider the cost and realize that a team of advocates and the whole state that responded to support Ashley and Daniel in this, not every family has that,” Newman said. “You have to wonder about all the families you never hear from, the families whose stories don’t make the news. You don’t hear from them and you kind of have to wonder: ‘Do they just get eaten by the system?’”
As a result of The Houston Chronicle/NBC News investigative reporting, a Texas legislative committee that oversees the state’s child welfare system called a daylong hearing in Austin last month to address the issue of mistaken child abuse allegations.
Committee Chairman Republican state Rep. James Frank remarked that the investigative reporting exposed serious problems in the system. According to NBC News, Frank vowed that the hearing was the first step toward solving the problems.
One mother who lost custody of her 2-year-old daughter after she was accused by doctors of child abuse testified during the hearing.
“In this process, you are guilty until [proven] innocent,” the mother, Ajshay James, told the lawmakers.
Frank said from the outset of the hearing: “We’re here to learn from past mistakes.”