The Family Helpline for Strong Families and Safe Children, a project of the Austin-based Texas Legal Services Center, was created to demystify the child welfare system by providing free, objective legal information, explanation and education for callers; as well as referrals to local resources.
The Family Helpline is staffed by experienced attorneys who can explain the CPS process in easy-to-understand, everyday language. All calls are anonymous – and anyone and everyone is welcome to call regardless of whether they’re involved in an open CPS case, explained Crystal Leff-Piñon, the managing attorney for the Helpline.
Families involved in non-legal Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS) cases and CPS investigations are not entitled to any kind of free, court-appointed legal representation, she explained, even though kids are sometimes still getting placed outside of the home in voluntary out-of-home placements. The Helpline was created in large part to fill this gap in access to legal services.
“CPS is scary for families, and a lot of families involved in this system are already stressed for various reasons. Decisions get made out of stress, fear and sometimes misinformation,” Leff-Piñon said. “If they were able to access an accurate service they might make a different decision.”
The call-in process is simple. Here’s how it works:
- Someone calls the Helpline and gets connected with an experienced lawyer right away.
- The lawyer explains the rules (that the calls are anonymous, and they cannot offer advice or legal representation), and ensures the caller understands that they are mandatory reporters of suspected abuse or neglect.
- The lawyer asks for generic, non-identifying information such as the caller’s first name and zip code – the caller does not have to provide this information.
- The caller can stay on the line as long as they need to until they feel satisfied that their question or questions have been answered. They can also call back anytime.
- If an attorney is not available to answer right away, callers may leave a voicemail which will be returned within one business day.
You can call the Family Helpline at 1-844-888-6565, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Spanish-speaking services and additional languages are available.
Please help us spread the word about this fantastic resource! Download The Family Helpline’s flyer – the Helpline also has cards, bookmarks and small posters available for distribution to members of the community. If you would like to obtain outreach materials to share in your community, please contact [email]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email].
Read an extended version of this article in The CASA Voice.