If Child Protective Services (CPS) is investigating you, it’s usually because someone reported his or her beliefs that your child is neglected or abused. You may never know who made the report: perhaps it was a neighbor, a family member, a police officer, a teacher, or a doctor. Sometimes, even strangers contact CPS about their assumptions. Unfortunately, once someone contacts CPS to file a report, it’s the job of CPS to thoroughly investigate the matter to learn if it’s true.
Everyone should tell CPS if they believe a child is being neglected or abused, and that person should do so even if he or she doesn’t know for sure that abuse or neglect is happening. Of course, a person should only report suspected neglect or abuse if they truly believe the child’s parent is neglectful or abusive. The decision to report something you know isn’t true is a crime.
In this post, we discuss some of the reasons CPS is called. The bottom line is that, if CPS is investigating you, seek legal advice from an experienced Houston attorney as soon as possible.
What’s likely to happen in a CPS investigation?
Many people who’ve experienced a CPS investigation say it’s a nightmare. If possible, try to remember that most social workers and CPS staffers have a single mission. They want to protect all children.
Realize that the investigator will gather information to determine whether your son or daughter is safe as well as whether CPS should probe deeper into your family matters. A CPS investigator uses a variety of methods to gather information in an investigation, including:
- Talking with individuals who may have information about the child’s alleged neglect or abuse, such as relatives, doctors, neighbors, or teachers
- Talking with others who know you and your family
- Taking photos of your home and your child
- Inspecting your home
- Examining your child for poor health or injuries
- Obtaining medical records, police reports, school records, or prior CPS histories
- Requiring a psychological and/or medical exam for your child
What should I do now?
Contact an experienced attorney who can advise you. An attorney won’t be assigned by the court during an investigation, but you do have the legal right to engage your own legal counsel.
There may be many things to do to help the case. Recognize you have the absolute right to demonstrate to CPS that your children are safe.
Your lawyer may recommend some or all of the following suggestions in a CPS investigation:
- Provide names of individual who know you and your family well, and who know you don’t neglect or abuse your child.
- Make sure that these references will treat the CPS investigator with respect and not create new or additional problems for you. CPS isn’t required to speak with every contact you offer, but most will agree to speak with as many people as possible to obtain a true picture of the situation.
- Offer the CPS investigator names and contact details of individuals who can explain how your child was injured (if he or she appears physically injured). This could be a doctor who can confirm the child’s medical condition or a neighbor or friend who saw your child fall from a bicycle.
- Stay calm.
- Don’t argue with the CPS staffer.
At any time you believe the CPS investigator is treating you unfairly or otherwise taking advantage of you, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
What are Some Common Reasons for a CPS Investigation?
If a child has clear marks on his or her skin regularly—not an occasional bruise or scrape that appears from playground activities; if he or she displays developmentally inappropriate behaviors (with other signs of neglect or abuse); if he or she appears emaciated or malnourished; if the child (younger than 8-12) is left home alone (abandoned) or isn’t supervised by an adult for hours; if there’s evidence that parents use drugs (in front of the child); if there’s evidence that one or both parents are alcoholics; if there’s a strong suspicion of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of the child; if there’s evidence of domestic abuse; or if the home environment is dangerous or unsanitary (i.e., mold food and feces), CPS will want to investigate the child’s living arrangements.
Do some people use CPS to harass or intimidate the parent or parents?
Unfortunately, yes. It’s inappropriate and possibly illegal to make a false claim to CPS.
Some parents, such as those in a custody battle, contact CPS in hopes of gaining custody of the child. Others use CPS to “get back” at another person. Still others don’t agree with the parent or parents’ decision to homeschool, spank (within reason), yell at, or not vaccinate the child; don’t like seeing the child playing in his or her own yard without a parent present; don’t agree with the legal parent choices made by the parents; don’t like seeing a child dressed in unseasonable clothes, such as in light summer clothes in the cool winter months; or don’t agree with the parents’ choice to allow the child to play naked in his or her own yard (if younger than age five).
Does a call to CPS always result in an investigation?
No. About 80 percent of calls to CPS are considered unsubstantiated. An unsubstantiated case isn’t likely to result in CPS opening a case.
This fact is often good news for a family who receives an unwarranted CPS visit. It’s not good news for the individual who called CPS because they want the agency to do something. It’s frankly bad news for CPS because it ends up wasting resources and time on normal, healthy families instead of those who need help.
Realize that CPS must follow-up on each call received. Even if someone called CPS in spite, CPS must send a social worker to visit your family one or two times, interview both parents (if the child has two parents), and interview the child or children. After interviews are performed, CPS reviews the case, contacts references, and recommends next steps (an investigation) or determines the matter is unfounded.
If the child’s home situation is dangerous—such as if the parent or parents leave the child without supervision for days on end, don’t buy food for the child, abuse their child physically or sexually, or get high—CPS may conclude that removing the child is in his or her best interests.
When Should You Seek Legal Advice About a CPS Investigation?
Seek legal advice as soon as possible.
CPS may show up at your door. The individual, wearing a badge, says he or she is from Children’s Protective Services. If for any reason the individual isn’t wearing a badge, ask to see his or her identification card.
This is a nightmare for most parents. Take these steps in a CPS representative appears at your home:
- Step outside. Close the door behind you. Don’t panic. A CPS social worker will report anything they see inside the home. If you’re concerned about scattered toys or dirty dishes in the sink, realize the first contact with CPS is usually an unannounced visit. You might be unprepared for it. Take the child or children outside if necessary.
- If you’re hearing impaired or need a translator, tell the CPS representative right away.
- Tell the CPS social worker if your child is a Native American or of Native Alaskan heritage. This may affect the applicable legal requirements.
- Remain polite. Don’t appear angry or frustrated.
- Answer the CPS representative’s questions briefly and politely.
- Request a copy of the official CPS complaint. You should know what was said about you to better respond to the accusation. For instance, if the complaint is partly true, you will need to explain the situation to CPS. Obtaining a copy of the report may help you identify the individual who contacted CPS.
- Show CPS that you have a healthy and happy family.
- Don’t refuse to answer CPS’s questions. Don’t provide more information than CPS requests.
- Don’t authorize CPS to access the child’s medical records.
In most cases, the CPS social worker wants to arrange a meeting time for you and the entire family. Clean your home before the scheduled meeting: wash the dishes, dust, and vacuum the carpets and floors. Although a messy or otherwise disorganized house isn’t usually an issue, don’t leave it to chance.
If you suspect that an individual is harassing you by contacting CPS—CPS can’t confirm or tell you the name of the individual who called—you may file a harassment charge against him or her at the nearest police station.
Note that a good-faith reporter, such as a teacher, will be protected against prosecution in the event his or her claim is considered unsubstantiated. However, a person who calls CPS in order to harass another person isn’t protected from prosecution.
If the first CPS meeting isn’t conclusive and CPS decides to open an investigation, contact an experienced lawyer right away. Don’t agree to anything proposed by CPS without an attorney at your side.
Can CPS remove my child?
Yes. However, CPS removes a child only when they deem it’s necessary to protect him or her from neglect or abuse. CPS may remove the child with a court order if he or she is unsafe and/or the family can’t make necessary changes to ensure his or her safety.
After a child is removed from the home, the court reviews the case on the following working day. In every case, the judge schedules a hearing within a two-week period after the child is removed by CPS.
When the child is removed, CPS asks the parent(s) to complete the Child Caregiver Resource Form. The form requests grandparents’ and other adult relatives’ names who may offer emotional support and care for the child at this time.
Does CPS discuss my case with law enforcement?
Yes. CPS must inform law enforcement of any report alleging neglect of abuse of the child. Law enforcement then decides whether it will initiate a criminal investigation. A criminal investigation occurs separately from CPS’s investigation.
Contact a Child Abuse Lawyer in Houston, TX
If you’re the subject of a CPS investigation, and if law enforcement wants to proceed with a criminal investigation, cooperate with the social worker and police officers or investigators. Don’t resist the CPS inspection: doing so may result in CPS’s requesting a court order to proceed with the investigation.
Don’t delay in engaging an experienced child abuse lawyer. Contact The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp as soon as possible for an initiation case evaluation.