Jane Smith is an active-duty soldier, serving as a medic at Fort Hood. She has two younger half-siblings under her care; her brothers initially lived with their mother and stepfather, but the family has had a few encounters with Child Protective Services. The parents were often homeless and unemployed, and when they were both arrested for drug use, the boys went into the foster system. When the parents came out on parole, they took the children under their care again. However, they dropped the boys off at a park one day and left without any assurance that they would return.
Frightened, the kids called their older sister, Ms. Smith, who has now taken care of them for over six months. The parents have not disagreed to this arrangement; according to Ms. Smith, this is presumably because they are aware that their own living conditions aren’t appropriate for the children and eventual CPS involvement would be inevitable.
Ms. Smith was happy to provide a safer and more stable environment for her siblings and wanted to get a court order so she could add them to her Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) account. Through DEERS, active-duty veterans, military sponsors, and family members are eligible for healthcare and additional benefits, like life insurance and education benefits. This would allow the children to be added to her Tricare health plan and other veteran benefits and be placed on her orders when it’s time to move.
She contacted the Lone Star Legal Aid’s Military & Veterans Unit and was assisted by staff attorney, Lori Fergie, in acquiring all of the necessary documentation and getting approved for a hearing. Both parents signed waivers and did not contest the proceedings. Knowing that the parents had little to no work history and only some government income benefits, Ms. Smith did not request any child support or medical support from either of them. She did, however, ask for the parents’ visitation to be restricted due to their drug use and CPS’ prior findings of neglect. Ms. Smith was named the sole managing conservator, giving her the legal right to make decisions regarding the children without any geographic restriction. This also allows her to monitor the parents’ access to the children and supervise their visitations.
Ms. Smith is now able to support her siblings using her military benefits and give them a happy and reliable home life.
Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org
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*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the client