Friday, 19 April 2013

Judge Alyce Bondurant works to protect children

Judge Alyce Bondurant works to protect children, Associate Justice Alyce Bondurant told a recent meeting of the University Kiwanis Club of Wichita Falls, Texas, that she has spent the last four years working to improve the situations of children living in a large area across the state of Texas. Bondurant, whose home court is on the fourth floor of the County Courthouse in Wichita Falls, Texas, is able to help children over a huge area across Texas as she frequently hits the highway to other courthouses located in Archer City, Decatur and Breckenridge to oversee Child Protective Services cases in those jurisdictions also.

Her full title is North Texas Child Protection Associate Justice.

She told the Kiwanians at a recent Wednesday noon luncheon at Luby's in Wichita Falls, that she believes the advent of specialized courts such as hers has resulted in a better situation for children in the judicial system.

"I hear only Child Protective Services cases. If someone reports a case of child abuse CPS will get involved and can remove children from a home. Since that's an extreme measure, the people involved are now entitled to a hearing within 14 days so everyone will have the opportunity to tell their side of the story fairly quickly," Bondurant told the interested audience of Kiwanians.

Bondurant, who previously served as managing attorney for the Attorney General's Office in Wichita Falls, said that after 14 days angry people have had an opportunity to cool down.

"People are a lot less likely to want to come into your courtroom with a gun after two weeks time to think things over. When I was in the AG's office, there was something about going into a court and telling a parent they were ordered to pay $10,000 child support that just went all over them," the judge said.

"I hear the extreme CPS cases. People who observe child abuse in Texas are required to pick up a phone and call the 800 number and report it. That's how these cases get started. Someone either reports it or a police officer arrests the parents and discovers child abuse is ocurring."

"An example I can think of is there's a meth lab in the house and the police arrest the parents. CPS takes custody of the children. It's called an emergency removal and those removals are done immediately. They can be placed in the Children's Home here or in foster care. So that's how a typical case begins in an emergency situation," the Iowa Park native said.

"We've had a real rash lately of people deciding they don't want their children anymore and dumping them on the doorstep of CPS. It's in the statute that if you refuse to take care of your child, the child will be removed," Bondurant explained.

"This process begins when you have an adversary hearing within 14 days. At the end of the 14-day period the parties will reach an agreement or we will have a trial."

Bondurant, who worked for respected Wichita County Attorney Newt Newman earlier in her career, said she remembered "that in the old days frequently the State would obtain a managing conservatorship over the kids and the case would set there indefinitely."

Under the new streamlined system which she and her court co-ordinator Martha Harrington work, the case must be resolved within 12 months.

"You can imagine how difficult it can be sometimes to work with a drug addict to see if they can recover within 12 months and be able to properly care for their child or children," she said. "I can grant a one time 18-month extension and then the case drops dead. So we move fast."

She explained the role of CASA or Court-Appointed Special Advocates.

"The children have to have appointed for them a guardian ad litem. That's where Stephanie Gorham of CASA comes in. CASA is an excellent non-profit organization which provides guardians for the children," the judge explained.

"At the beginning of the case the goal is to try and reunite the children with their parents. But if the parents regress, the plan changes to termination of parental rights."

Kiwanian Doug James asked what the profile was of parents who turn their children in to CPS and no longer want custody of them.

"Sadly, a lot of times they've really tried hard. Sometimes its parents who have adopted children and later change their minds," the judge answered.

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