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Child Abuse Law

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Child Protective Services

Key Takeaways:

  • Child Protective Services (CPS) investigates cases of reported abuse and neglect. 
  • Some professions, like teachers, doctors, and social workers, are mandatory reporters who have to report any suspected abuse. 
  • If you are under investigation for neglect or abuse, you should not answer questions or let investigators into your house without first talking to a lawyer.

Children are some of the most vulnerable members of society. Understandably, we have specific laws and programs in place to protect them. While Child Protective Services (CPS) can help intervene in cases of neglect or abuse, not every report they investigate is valid or requires drastic actions like child removal.

If you’re being investigated by CPS, you have rights and defenses available to you. Even your earliest actions in a CPS investigation can impact your report, so it’s imperative to understand what you need to do. Talk to a family lawyer who understands child protection cases for more information about your rights.

Why Would CPS Investigate Me?

Most CPS investigations begin when someone calls to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. These concerns may come from observing a child’s physical condition, like injuries, unreasonably dirty clothes, and generally poor hygiene. Children may also make comments to caregivers at daycare or teachers that could be mistaken for child neglect or maltreatment at home.

These reporters don’t need to have proof of abuse or neglect. If someone believes a child may be experiencing abuse or neglect, they can call CPS to open the investigation.

Some people are mandatory reporters, who must report any suspected abuse or neglect. Examples of mandated reporters include teachers, childcare providers, social workers, and health care professionals.

With anonymous abuse hotline reporting, anyone could theoretically find themselves in a CPS investigation, even if their home is perfectly safe for their children. A misunderstood comment from a child to their teacher or an unusual bruise that a doctor notices could require a call to CPS, which may turn up nothing.

What Happens During a CPS Investigation?

Even if you are a loving parent who has never mistreated your child, it is understandable to feel nervous during a social services investigation.

The extent of the investigation will depend on the allegations made against you and your history with CPS. Some possibilities are:

  • An investigative home visit by a CPS worker
  • Interviews with you, your child, or other people in your lives
  • Court-ordered drug tests
  • Medical examination of your child
  • Mental health evaluation of your child

What Do I Do if CPS Investigates My Home?

You don’t have to let a CPS investigator into your home if they don’t have a court order. You may be inclined to open your door right away to prove you have nothing to hide. However, it could be in your best interest to deny the investigator immediate access to your home so you have time to call a lawyer. Speaking calmly and politely during this process can help your case. Don’t take an angry or combative approach, which could impact how your investigator views you.

Once you do start talking with the investigator, you should ask what you’re being investigated for and the basis for that accusation. You can even ask for documentation related to your case. You should always be honest when answering questions. However, you should be thoughtful to avoid misinterpretations.

If you don’t think you know how to answer a question, you can stay silent. Remember that anything you say can impact the course of the investigation.

You may be able to prevent investigators from interviewing your child in your home, but they could get a court order to compel interview access. Sometimes, they can interview your child without your knowledge when they’re outside of your home.

Typically, you can also refuse to take a drug test unless the investigator has a court order.

What Are the Consequences of a CPS Investigation?

The results of the investigation can vary. An investigator may find that the allegations were unfounded and close your case without further action. However, if the CPS worker thinks they have sufficient evidence of neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse, you may have to go to court.

Your case could go through several rounds of hearings to determine the seriousness of your case. For example, if CPS believes your child is in immediate danger by staying home with you, they may ask the court to remove your child from your home. In some cases, CPS may even be able to remove your child before the court orders it.

If the court finds relatively minor instances of abuse or neglect, you might be allowed to keep your children at home if you follow a “safety plan.” A safety plan may require you to attend therapy sessions, parenting classes, or addiction treatment. If you comply with the court’s orders and complete safety plans, they may close your case.

If the court believes that your children aren’t safe in your home, they could be removed and placed with another family member or foster care. Usually, you’ll have time to address the safety concerns that led to the removal so you can try and get your children back home. Permanent removal is usually a last resort for cases of severe abuse and a parent’s refusal to address the concerns.

CPS investigations are not criminal investigations. However, if the investigators believe the situation warrants criminal charges they may present their findings to your local prosecutor, who could decide to open a criminal case against you.

What Happens After a CPS Case Is Closed?

Once your case is closed, you’re no longer under active investigation or monitoring. If no one filed criminal charges, the investigation will typically stay off of your record and background checks.

If someone files another complaint against you, your case could be reopened or could be referenced during a new investigation based on any accusations against you.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a CPS Investigation?

You may not be required to get a lawyer for a CPS investigation. However, it could be in your best interest to get advice from an experienced attorney who’s familiar with the child welfare system. In some states, you may even be able to get an attorney appointed if you have limited means.

An attorney can help you present your case, answer CPS questions, and guide you through any safety plans or other results of your investigation.