Helping You Through Difficult Times

From Chaos to Clarity: When CPS Comes Knocking

On Behalf of | Sep 26, 2022 | Firm News

Our second installment in our From Chaos to Clarity series dives into some extraordinarily difficult, and often scary, cases where Child Protective Services is involved.

What is CPS?

Child Protective Services (“CPS“) is a division in the Department of Social Services. Their goal is to help families are in the best position to ensure every child is safe, happy and properly cared for. To do this, CPS investigates and alleviates child abuse, neglect or dependency issues.

There are four main categories of abuse and neglect:

  1. Physical Abuse/Neglect
  2. Examples may include hitting, kicking, slapping, beating, not feeding, not bathing, not changing a child, or leaving a child unattended for long periods of time.
  3. Medical Abuse/Neglect
  4. Examples may include children not being up to date with medical/dental appointments or not following through on treatment plans.
  5. Mental Abuse/Neglect
  6. Examples may include making fun of or yelling at a child to the point of abuse, constantly and inappropriately manipulating the child, or exposing the child to domestic violence.
  7. Sexual Abuse/Neglect
  8. Examples include but are not limited to another person fondling your child while he or she was under your care or supervision

Dependency issues may arise when there is a situation with a child that doesn’t exactly fall into one of the above categories, but the child still needs services. For example, a child that’s consistently absent from school may need some help getting to class.

Where do CPS reports come from?

  • Reports of abuse, neglect, and dependency come from people who saw or heard something that caused them some concern about the child or the child’s care and they felt that someone should investigate into the situation.
  • Unfortunately, CPS workers can’t tell you who made the report

Why do I keep emphasizing that CPS “investigates” these reports? That’s because that’s all they’re doing. The first CPS worker you have interactions with is called the “Investigator.” Their job is to read the report and the allegations that were made, and then quickly try to determine whether there’s any truth to the allegations. Their investigation with likely begin with a visit to your home, but can include accessing social media, reviewing records from police, doctors, therapists, rehabs, schools, and so much more.

So DSS showed up at my door…. what now?

Don’t panic!

It can feel very overwhelming and intrusive to have a stranger come in your home under the best of circumstances, let alone when it’s someone from CPS. The Investigator will probably start out by asking you some pretty personal questions. Remember, the goal isn’t to take your child away, make you into a monster, or anything like that – they know parents are people that make mistakes and aren’t expecting you to be perfect. All the Investigator is trying to do is see what’s been going on, figure out if there are any ways to help the family be stronger and healthier, and make sure your child is safe.

As scary as it may seem, the best thing you can do is to be honest with the Investigator. The Investigator may ask you some questions they already know the answers to in an effort to gauge your truthfulness and will be talking with additional people in you and your children’s lives. It’s always best if they hear the whole truth from you rather than hearing it from someone else.

The CPS worker will speak with you, your children (individually) and some “collateral” contacts regarding the care of the children. As I said, this can feel really invasive and upsetting but the CPS worker has a duty to investigate these child abuse, neglect, and dependency claims to make sure your kid is ok.

Common questions may ask include:

  • General questions:
  • How long have you lived here?
  • Who all lives in the home?
  • Do you work?
  • Personal Questions:
  • What is your income?
  • How do you discipline your child?
  • Do you have any history of mental health issues?
  • Do you have a history of substance abuse issues?
  • Who watches your children when you are not in the home?
  • What is your marital status?
  • Do you have a criminal record?

These are just a few examples of some of the things the Investigator may ask to get an idea of what’s going on in your home. The Investigator will also have to look around the house and check that you have working heat/air conditioner, refrigerator, food, hot water and have places for each child to sleep. Don’t worry if your house is messy or doesn’t look Martha Stewart stopped by – the goal is to make sure the kids and home are safe.

Remember: the reason behind these questions is to make sure the child in the report is safe, happy and properly cared for. They don’t necessarily mean that you’re in trouble, and they don’t mean you’re a bad parent!

So DSS just left my home…. what now?

The Investigator that came to your home will make a decision to either open or close the case.

If they decide to close the case, that means they do not have any serious concerns about the home or with the child that would require services

If they decide to open the case, that means that the Investigator thinks there may be some services that would help you, the child, or the family as a whole be a stronger, healthier family. Depending on what the Investigator may have noticed during their investigation, the CPS may ask that you, your child, or others in your home participate in classes, therapies, or other services. A safety plan will be put in place detailing all of the services or tasks that will be expected of you.

As invasive, difficult, and overwhelming as it may seem, these services are important and should be taken seriously. Failure to comply with these services can have potentially serious consequences that could range from custody changes to the child being placed in foster care.

Sometimes, CPS will require in-home services. They could include: parenting classes, anger management classes, batterer’s support groups, therapy, or making a plan for how to get your child to school. These are meant to address issues the Investigator saw in the home.

  • If you are asked to complete these services, it’s best to do them as soon as you can. CPS knows most parents and families are busy and that these classes can add to the load that you’re already carrying, but the sooner that you can complete them, the sooner your case may be resolved.
  • If some of the services cost money, CPS may be able to schedule a team meeting (called a “Family Assessment and Planning Team” or “FAPT”) to help cover those costs.

If the Investigator feels your child is unsafe, then they may remove the child from the home temporarily. This is ONLY if the child is unsafe in the home, meaning that there is no quick fix to correct the issue while the child is in the home. A hearing is always scheduled within a few days of this happening, where CPS will have to explain to a judge why such a drastic step was taken.

  • If this happens, the Investigator will ask you for a list of people with and places where the child could stay until everyone is able to get the help they need. These could include family members, family friends, etc. The Investigator will look into everyone on your list, look into their backgrounds, and place the child with the family member or family friend that’s best suited to take care of the child for the short term.

Remember: this starts as only TEMPORARY. If your child is removed from your care, you will be given a list of tasks to complete, which may include the classes listed above, seeking substance abuse treatment, or participating in other services. Once those are finished and the CPS Team feels the home is safe for the child to return, your kids will come home.

It’s important to remember that CPS is here to help you and your family, not hurt. Though some of the recommendations may seem extreme, Investigators are people too and they need to be able to go to sleep at night knowing they didn’t leave a child in harms way. If your child is removed from your home, the Team’s first priority is almost always helping your family become the strongest and healthiest family it can be for your kids.

The consequences of not following through on your safety plan, tasks, services, and requirements can be serious. It’s extremely important to complete everything on your safety plan and in any Court Orders as soon as you can. You should always keep your attorney up to date with what you have completed and when, along with any major updates along the way.

CPS showing up can be scary and intimidating. I hope that this provided a little bit of guidance of what to expect and why everything is happening. It’s ok to ask questions and to call your attorney if you are unsure about anything.