Editor’s note: This story contains language that may not be appropriate for all readers.
In Texas, the law is pretty clear when it comes to who’s responsible for reporting abuse or neglect – pretty much anyone who thinks abuse or neglect is happening. Often, that person is a delivery nurse or a doctor.
For hundreds of babies born in Texas each year, their first caregiver is the state. In the last five years, Texas Child Protective Services has taken custody of more than 5,500 newborns – removing them from their biological parents shortly after being born.
But how does CPS become part of a child’s life, when that life has barely begun?
“The hospital calls us either at the time the baby is born or shortly after the baby is born if they have concerns,” says Lisa Guyton with Child Protective Services.
One phone call is all it took for CPS to become intrinsically involved in the lives of Courtney Meeks and William Welch.
I arrived at the hospital the morning after their baby girl was delivered. Welch was still in awe. His hands are trembling and thick tears roll down his cheeks as he describes the moment his daughter came into the world.
“Amazing, it was amazing! I had never seen anything like that,” he says. “I can’t even explain it – you know?”
But the shaking and tears aren’t just of pure joy. Welch is terrified.
The challenges that lay ahead are huge – for starters, he and Courtney Meeks are homeless. They’re also recovering addicts.
As we talk about these things, a nurse comes into the room. It’s only been one full day since Meeks’s C-section. Still, the discharge means it’s time for Meeks and Welch to go back to their camp, somewhere in the woods of Austin.
But they wouldn’t be leaving with their baby. Instead, baby Eve will stay at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU.
“We don’t like the fact that we have to leave her here,” Meeks says, crying. “We bought everything but it’s at my dad’s house.”