What Happens When CPS is Called?

This blog entry is intended to describe what steps CPS makes after a typical report of abuse or neglect is made. It is extremely important to hire an attorney that has experience dealing with child abuse investigations before meeting with CPS. An attorney will have knowledge to help guide you through this confusing and difficult time. Each person’s situation is different, but do not take your chances telling your side of the story without working with an attorney.

When CPS receives a tip, it must first determine whether or not an investigation is needed. While a caller does not have to be certain or have proof of abuse or neglect, reasonable suspicion is required. Before CPS registers a report and starts an investigation, it must consider:

  • Identity and Location – Can CPS identify and locate the child and family being reported?
  • Age of Child – Is the child able to protect itself from the alleged risk?
  • Jurisdiction – Does CPS have jurisdiction?
  • Person Legally Responsible – Is the abuser a parent, legal guardian, foster care provider or other adult responsible for the child’s care?
  • Allegations – Does the alleged conduct constitute abuse? If CPS determines that the alleged conduct is not abuse, then there probably won’t be any investigation.

If CPS determines that there may be abuse or neglect, a report will be registered, and CPS will begin an investigation. CPS will probably also make a report to the police who may conduct their own investigation.

The Investigation
CPS will want to conduct the initial interview with the alleged victim within 24 hours of a report. In this phase, CPS may take the following steps:

  • Interviews – The caseworker will either call or visit your home to interview you, the alleged perpetrator, the child or other members of the family or household. The caseworker will want to interview your child alone, and the caseworker IS NOT required to record the interview.
  • Examinations – The caseworker may request/inquire about medical or psychological examinations of your child to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred.
  • Drug Tests – Caseworkers routinely carry drug tests with them and will request you to take a test. More than likely, they will give you an oral swab test. These tests are not as reliable as normal drug tests done at any lab. Without a court order, CPS cannot force you to take any test.

Sometimes a caseworker will show up with law enforcement to try to gain leverage or to intimidate you. CPS has no authority to enter your home without a Court order. Caseworkers have threatened removal or warrants for arrests if they are not allowed in the home or not allowed to see the child. Sometimes, caseworkers will interview the child at school prior to you finding out about any allegations against you.

Possible Outcomes
If the caseworker determines that there is no evidence of abuse or neglect, the case is closed and the records are usually sealed. If the caseworker determines that there is evidence of abuse or a risk of abuse, CPS may:

  • Create a Service Plan: In most cases, CPS will try to work with the family to protect the interests of the child. CPS offers many services including psychiatric counseling, group therapy, parent support services and more.
  • Remove the Child: If CPS determines that there are no reasonable efforts that can keep your child safe in your home, CPS will get a court order and take custody of your child. If CPS determines that your child is in immediate danger, CPS may remove your child before getting a court order. When this happens, the court will review your case the next working day to determine if the removal was necessary and proper.

It is important to remember that caseworkers and investigators of CPS are not bound by the constitutional protections as found in dealing with regular law enforcement. It is best to treat the CPS worker as law enforcement and you need to be mindful of your actions during an investigation. I advise all my clients to record every encounter you have with CPS or law enforcement. You have the right to record any conversation. You can also conceal the recorder whether it is a separate device or your smart phone.

Caseworkers will try to intimidate you into signing a service plan or agree to place the children with a relative or friend. You should speak with an attorney before you take any steps. Service plans are not Court orders and have no special legal significance. Service plans are merely contracts with a temporary agreement between the CPS and the parents.

When choosing an attorney to help you with CPS, you need someone who is familiar with the laws, policies and procedures involved in these cases. You need to select an attorney who you can trust to guide you through the process.

I have represented parents, children and family members in CPS cases. I know how the CPS system works, and will give you an honest assessment of your case. Call me today to make an appointment for a consultation – 972-369-0577. Contacting an attorney early in the process can help you formulate the best strategy for approaching your CPS case.