The following shall not be considered advice from an attorney. Every case is different. You should request the assistance of a licensed attorney for advice specific to your circumstances.
Child Protective Services, commonly referred to as CPS, has shown up at your house. What should you do next?
Do not panic.
The first step – do NOT panic. Child Protective Services can show up on anyone’s doorstep, whether you have done something or not. The theory behind Child Protective Services is virtuous, but at times they can operate in a manner that is not consistent with their own protocols or your Constitutional rights.
In your initial meeting with CPS, you will likely be contacted by an Investigations CPS worker. In some cases, an “Alternative Response” worker may make contact with you, but their role is very similar to an Investigations worker. Their job is to make initial contact with you, see the kids, assess the situation, talk to collateral sources, and in some cases – remove kids from a home that has immediate safety issues.
You should request their card with their contact information and request the information of their immediate supervisor. Caseworkers rarely have the authority to make decisions without first checking their decisions with a supervisor.
The caseworker will not tell you who reported abuse; however, you should request what allegations have been made. Some caseworkers may not give you details but should state what category of abuse has been alleged such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglectful supervision, etc.
CPS “eyes” on your child.
Oftentimes, it is best to allow the CPS worker to physically see the child. This assures that they are physically safe. There are criminal penalties for thwarting or attempting to thwart a CPS investigation. However, you do not have to assist them in their investigation.
It is important to be clear and concise on what you will allow and will not allow in this initial contact.
Whether you allow the CPS worker to interview your child depends on their age, circumstances, and other factors. CPS may have already interviewed your child at school without your knowledge. Once you know an interview has taken place, make sure you understand where and when the interview occurred and with whom.
In some cases, it may be best to allow the interview to happen between your child and CPS. An attorney can help you evaluate what steps you should take.
A CPS worker should not ask your child “leading” questions. They should open the door for the child to tell their own story without supplying the child with facts. CPS has a high turnover rate and not all CPS workers are as skilled in this area as they should be.
If there are allegations of physical abuse or bruising, the worker may ask to photograph your child.
You may request the worker interview your child with you present, or that you will retain an attorney and inform them of your interview decision at that time. In theory, the Investigations stage should move quickly. If you state that you plan to retain an attorney and will make decisions at that time, you should retain an attorney as fast as possible. It may be a wise decision to allow the worker to see your child without an interview so they are ensured that the child is safe.
An attorney can help you evaluate the needs and parameters of an interview with your child.
What Happens if I Refuse an Interview?
What happens next depends on your case specifically. The difficult part of a CPS case is predicting what CPS will do. CPS can have similar cases but treat them differently depending on differing workers, supervisors, and areas.
You should seek an attorney that has experience with CPS, and more importantly, has a working relationship with CPS.
You are not required to do anything for CPS unless CPS obtains a court order. If you decline an interview, CPS may seek a court order that would force you to allow CPS access to your child. In more extreme cases, CPS may request an order to remove the child from your home.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, CPS may agree to not interview your child until you have obtained advice from an attorney.
Should I submit to a drug test?
No, unless there is a Court Order that requires you to submit to a drug test.
There are some limited circumstances when a client may wish to take a drug test voluntarily. For example, the client is sure an accusation is false, or a client is asked for a drug test for custody and is sure they are negative.
If you are unsure about whether you should take a drug test, be sure to ask if there is a Court Order. This is a yes or no answer from the CPS worker and one you might want to get in text or writing. If there is no court order regarding drug testing, there may be one in the near future. You should talk to an attorney about your options and the specific issues in your case.
Oftentimes, CPS will assure parents that they are a “civil” entity and do not pursue criminal charges. However, the information you give CPS is not completely protected from future litigation and is commonly used in Family Law cases. Your case may come back to haunt you years later.
CPS has asked me to attend a “Family Team Meeting” or “FTM”
CPS has tried to institute collaborative solutions; however, attending a Family Team Meeting may not be in your best interest. A Family Team Meeting consists of yourself and other family members and friends. The belief is, the more people that are involved and support you and your children, the more likely you can find a good outcome. CPS tries to train their workers to “think outside the box,” but fall short and often try to “prescribe” you a certain plan depending on the facts of your case. A Family Team Meeting could be an excellent time to find a suitable solution to problems, but it does not always work out that way.
At times, CPS will not allow an attorney to attend these meetings, or they will try to reduce attorney interaction in these meetings. For some people, these meetings are helpful, but other times, these meetings are used to corner parents and have them agree to or admit to things an attorney would advise against. If there is discord and conflict in the family, these meetings can be intense and stressful.
If there are criminal aspects to your case, you should seek an attorney’s advice before attending a Family Team Meeting. Again, CPS may assure you that they are a civil agency, but nothing prevents them from supplying information or helping law enforcement build a case against you.
I have been asked to do “voluntary” services.
CPS tries to get participation from families “voluntarily.” Many times, voluntary participation only happens because CPS threatens to take parents to court if they do not participate in services. An attorney will help you evaluate whether you should participate in services, and in many cases, can guide you to services you can engage in on your own and assist you in closing your case after investigations.
In some cases, if a child is not removed, but there are risks present, the case will move to another department called “Family-Based Safety Services” or “FBSS.” You may participate voluntarily, or CPS may try to get an order forcing your participation with FBSS.
If your case moves into FBSS, you will be assigned a new worker that will monitor your progress and interview your children monthly. If you do not progress, or if your worker finds safety issues are present or have developed, that worker can remove your child from your home with a Court order.
You can work with an attorney to prevent the FBSS stage in some cases and stop/close the case in the investigations stage. This is preferable as it limits CPS contacts with you and your children. However, it is not always a solution depending on the specific facts, allegations, and circumstances of a case.
A goal of FBSS is not only to monitor your progress and children but also to ensure financial access to services. Most services that are requested by FBSS will be paid for by FBSS. One way of stopping the case before it goes to FBSS is to show CPS that you have already started services on your own and do not need financial assistance to access services.
Remember that you have rights. The earlier you speak with an attorney about your case, the better your result may be.