If Child Protective Services ever show up on your doorstep, first and foremost, take it very, very, seriously and be very very calm. Don’t ever think that because you are a good parent, nothing bad will happen. Millions of good parents have suffered the nightmare of a CPS investigation and some have even had their children taken away. It is important to understand that when a report of suspected abuse is received by CPS their first focus is to make sure the children are safe. Unfortunately for some, this means that the parents are presumed guilty and are often confronted in an adversarial manner. These workers have no idea what the situation is they are actually walking into and must err on the side of caution and protect children first, sort out the facts later. Understanding where there coming from and biting your tongue no matter how mad you are that these people are in your world goes a long way.
Why Would CPS Come to My Home?
Anybody can make a complaint of suspected abuse or neglect, including your own child. Often, CPS is required to forward these reports to other law enforcement agencies for further investigation and possible criminal charges. If CPS shows up at your home, then someone has made such a complaint, although that complaint may be based on nothing more than speculation or conjecture, or may even be made in retaliation for a real or imagined slight. The source of the complaint is confidential and you are never entitled to know that information.
How Should I Respond?
Even if you are furious at the intrusion, you must remain calm and polite, otherwise you may find something like “Subject exhibited violence and was extremely uncooperative,” written in the investigator’s narrative. First contacts are often a business card left on your door. It may not even say, call me. It is imperative that you respond. Call the worker back and listen closely to what he/she has to say. It is allowable for you to tape record all conversations with CPS workers or others involved in the case if it makes your more comfortable. It is highly recommended that you keep a chronological journal of events, times and quotes. Do not be surprised if you are not told the allegations and the worker insists on a home visit. Again, keep in mind that the investigator has no idea if he/she is walking into a legitimate dangerous situation or an exaggerated report. Inspection of your home is necessary to reveal if it is a fit, proper, safe and appropriate home for children. There are no absolute criteria but basically examination that the home is in good repair, that each child has a bed, clothes, that there is food in the refrigerator and any and all other essential items are present are significant.
Do I have to let CPS see or speak to my children?
No, but CPS does not need your permission. CPS can interview your child, legally, at school or other public place without your knowledge. Refusal on your part will be noted as noncooperation. CPS is required to examine all children who reside in the home for marks, bruises, injuries etc. Often, CPS will suggest a physical examination by a doctor or in the emergency room depending on the allegations. It is recommended that if you are unsure how this is going to play out that you take the child to your pediatrician as soon as you know there is a suspected allegation so the condition of your child is noted.
Do I have to let CPS in my home?
Unless there is a properly executed warrant, you do not have to allow CPS workers into your home, regardless of what they tell you. However, you must understand that these are very powerful people and refusal into your home or refused access to your children may justify a removal of your children. It is best to speak to them casually on the phone and schedule a time for them to come and inspect your home. From a legal perspective, which in this instance may not be the most practical, without a warrant which has been signed by a judge based on sworn testimony, CPS may not enter your home unless they can prove imminent danger to the child—another good reason not to display your rightful anger. A police officer may accompany the CPS agent, but the same rules apply. Never strike or even touch a police officer or CPS agent, however politely inform them they do not have your permission to enter your home. Most importantly, remember there will be a report from the visit and the picture of the initial contact drawn by CPS will be the content.
CPS investigations can take up to 30 days according to the protective services investigative manual. In certain extenuating circumstances, such as a death of a child; sexual abuse or severe injury the worker can seek an extension to conclude the investigation. The worker is required to make contact with you and interview/ inspect your children within 24 hours of receipt of the complaint. For more information about the requirements of the investigation, see here.
The results of the investigation vary. CPS categorizes its findings by numbers. CPS must determine if there is a preponderance of evidence of child abuse or neglect. Preponderance of evidence means evidence which is of greater weight or more convincing than evidence which is offered in opposition to it; a 51% likelihood that abuse or neglect occurred.
Following a completed investigation, CPS will put a case in one of the following categories:
- Category V–Cases in which CPS is unable to locate the family, no evidence of child abuse or neglect is found or the court declines to issue an order requiring family cooperation during the investigation.
- Category IV—Cases in which a preponderance of evidence of child abuse or neglect is not found. The department must assist the child’s family in voluntarily participating in community-based services commensurate with risk level determined by the risk assessment (structured decision making tool).
- Category III—Cases in which the department determines that there is a preponderance of evidence of child abuse or neglect and the risk assessment indicates a low or moderate risk. A referral to community-based services must be made by CPS.
- Category II—Cases in which the department determines that there is a preponderance of evidence of child abuse or neglect and the risk assessment indicates a high or intensive risk. Services must be provided by CPS, in conjunction with community-based services.
- Category I—Cases in which the department determines that there is a preponderance of evidence of child abuse or neglect and a court petition is needed and/or required. Services must be provided by CPS (or foster care), in conjunction with community-based services. When a case is placed in Category II or I, the perpetrator’s name is listed on the Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry. See the Central Registry page for more information regarding central registry.
Who Can Report Abuse and What Are They Reporting?
As noted above, anyone can. Below is an excerpt from the protective services manual that is considered “instructive” to mandatory reporters such as school officials, medical personnel, child care providers, police and fire. If a report has been filed against you, one of these reporters is alleging observations that may be on this list. For more information you can click here. Highlighted below are some further reminders of where these people are coming from. Every worker responds to every complaint differently so any advice as to how to respond must be answered on a case by case basis. I frequently get the call that “CPS left a card on my door and what do I do?”
Potential Indicators of Child Abuse and/or Neglect
Determining when to report suspected child abuse or neglect can be difficult. A bruise on a toddler’s forehead may be the result of learning to walk or the result of abuse. When in doubt, contact the local DHS office for consultation.
Below are some of the commonly accepted physical and behavioral indicators of abuse and/or neglect. Please note that the physical and behavioral indicators listed are not the only indicators of child abuse and neglect and if present, do not always mean a child is being abused or neglected.
Physical Neglect – Physical Indicators
- Unattended medical needs.
- Lack of supervision.
- Regular signs of hunger, inappropriate dress, poor hygiene.
- Distended stomach, emaciated.
- Significant weight change.
Physical Neglect – Behavioral Indicators
- Regularly displays fatigue or listlessness, falls asleep in class.
- Steals/hoards food, begs from classmates.
- Reports that no caretaker is at home.
Physical Abuse – Physical Indicators
- Unexplained bruises (in various stages of healing), welts, loop marks.
- Adult/human bite marks.
- Bald spots or missing clumps of hair.
- Unexplained burns/scalds.
- Unexplained fractures, skin lacerations/punctures or abrasions.
- Swollen lips/chipped teeth.
- Linear/parallel marks on cheeks and temple area.
- Crescent-shaped bruising.
- Puncture wounds.
- Bruising behind the ears.
Physical Abuse – Behavioral Indicators
- Withdrawn and/or aggressive-behavior extremes.
- Uncomfortable/skittish with physical contact.
- Arrives at school late or stays late as if afraid to be at home.
- Chronic runaway (adolescents).
- Complains of soreness or moves uncomfortably.
- Wears clothing inappropriate to weather, to cover body.
- Lack of impulse control (e.g. inappropriate outbursts).
Sexual Abuse – Physical indicators
- Pain or itching in genital area.
- Bruises or bleeding in genital area.
- Sexually transmitted disease.
- Frequent urinary or yeast infections.
- Extreme or sudden weight change.
- Pregnancy under 12 years of age.
Sexual Abuse – Behavioral Indicators
- Withdrawal, chronic depression.
- Sexual behaviors or references that are unusual for the child’s age.
- Seductive or promiscuous behavior.
- Poor self-esteem, self-devaluation, lack of confidence.
- Suicide attempts (especially adolescents).
- Hysteria, lack of emotional control.
Mandated Reporter ‘ s Resource Guide
View the Mandated Reporter’s Resource Guide more detailed information.
Other Things You Need to Know
Child protection proceedings, those initiated by protective services are civil proceedings. The relief sought is determined by the allegations. If a child has suffered a serious physical injury or sexual abuse there is no discretion provided in the law and DHS must seek to terminate parental rights. There are other non-discretionary allegations as well. This does not mean your rights will be terminated. It means it is the end result being sought. The other form of relief is temporary custody. Temporary custody means that your children allegedly need the court to intervene to protect them because of being found in a situation where there was inadequate care or custody. In a civil proceeding the “maximum” that can happen is loss of your children forever.
Criminal proceedings may be initiated by the police simultaneously, before or after a child protection proceeding. Possible criminal charges are child abuse, neglect, child endangerment or others.
In all of these proceedings, you have a right to remain silent. Consult an attorney before speaking about the actual allegations. Everything you say can and will be used against you. It is not just a line on TV.
Often prospective clients call my office and ask me if they need a lawyer? My answer is always the same… do you understand what is going on? Are you sleeping at night? What are you most afraid of? Your own answers to these questions will help you decide if you need a lawyer or not. At Kirsch & Satawa, PC different rates apply depending on the stage of the proceedings in which the case comes to our attention. This is serious. Your children are your most valuable asset. Treasure your rights.