Having a Child Protective Services investigator knock on your door and ask to talk to you is one of the worst nightmares any parent could face. It is a sign that you could be facing an ugly divorce and a potential conviction for child abuse.
A CPS investigation is serious business and can have life-altering consequences if things go wrong. It’s not to be taken lightly. Nonetheless, a CPS investigator’s authority is limited by law to certain activities.
Her ability to intrude into your life is not, I repeat, not open-ended. So let’s step way back from that nightmare for a moment and what you have to do whenever you have a CPS at your steps.
Prior to the CPS, in 1853, The Children’s Aid Society was founded in order to respond to the problem of orphaned or abandoned children living in New York City.
In 1874, the first case of child abuse was criminally prosecuted. The case has come to be known as the “case of Mary Ellen.” Outrage over the cruel brutality of the case, there was an organized effort against child maltreatment.
Finally, in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt convened the White House Conference on Child Dependency. This created a publicly funded volunteer organization to “establish and publicize standards of child care.” By 1926, 18 states had some version of county child welfare boards.
Their purpose was to coordinate public and private child-related work. Issues of abuse and neglect were addressed in the Social Security Act in 1930. This provided funds for intervention on behalf of “neglected and dependent children in danger of becoming delinquent.”
Partly funded by the federal government, Child Protective Services agencies were first established in response to the 1974 CAPTA. This mandated that all states establish procedures to investigate suspected incidents of child maltreatment.
It can be very easy for a parent to slip up and turn the eventual court case against them. To minimize or avoid criminal charges altogether, it is important to know common missteps that the accused often make in these scenarios to worsen their situations.
Not Knowing Your Rights
As with other states, California does allow you to refuse a CPS investigator’s entry if they come to your house to question you. Unless they carry the proper warrant, they cannot forcefully come into your house. Should that happen, you can bring this issue up with the courtroom.
You also have the right to refuse an investigator’s questions, but you must be careful which ones you choose not to answer. If you refuse questions that are very relevant to the case or try to minimize the case, the investigator will become increasingly suspicious of your behavior.
Answering Too Much
While you do not want to leave the investigator completely in the dark, you also need to be careful with how much information you choose to reveal. These investigators are trying to find anything that can prove you guilty of abuse, so any slight excessive detail will be used against you.
Before the interview in or out of the courtroom, make sure you ask your fair share of questions to the investigator. Ask them what the allegations against you are and what type of information they are looking for. It can aid you in preparing your response to their interrogation.
Though it is important to state your rights to the investigator, you must also do so politely and allow some of their investigation if you want to avoid suspicion. If you act rude, overly nervous or combative when they talk to you, then it could justify the accusations against you and will be used in the courtroom.
Just like a DUI stop, even if you have the right to refuse their approach, you should consider what the consequences will be and how you go about doing so. If you have nothing to hide, going along with their investigation can minimize some of their suspicion. Just do not assume that you are completely out of trouble after they interview you.
What To Do If CPS Are Investigating You
Record and Document Everything
Check your state recording laws. Print out a copy of your state’s recording law, and put it in a file folder titled “Child Welfare Agents” near your front door. Have an audio recorder or video camera handy in the house at all times.
Don’t be coerced not to record — this is your legal right if your state law says it is. Video is better than audio, if you can afford to do that instead.
Furthermore, you must document everything that happens in writing! Take notes. An English activist recommends you write down every word and insist that the worker must wait until the words are properly recorded. You have the right.
Keep a spiral-bound notebook on hand and use it to document every contact with child protective services or child protective services appointed “service providers”. Don’t back down on this! Prepare in advance, and stand firm against CPS agents!
After each contact, write a letter (some recommend having such a letter notarized) detailing what occurred, and request that the social worker confirm or deny the facts as you understand them within ten days of receipt of your letter.
If no letter disputing the facts is received, then your statement of facts will be automatically confirmed. This form of documentation can later be used as evidence in your favor in juvenile court.
Don’t Invite The CPS Worker Inside
You are under no obligation to let a child protective services, social worker, into your house. Under the basic law of our land, the United States Constitution, Amendment Four, you have the right to privacy in your home.
No government agent of any type is allowed to enter your home without your permission. We know of many cases where entry was coerced by statements such as “let me in or I’ll take your kids”. Do not give in!
Do not give up your Constitutional Rights! Stand firm on this! If your rights are not honored, you can sue them later, but it is so much better to force them to honor your rights now. Check out the Forced Entry Lawsuit.
The only exception would be if the child protective services agent shows up with a law enforcement officer bearing a search warrant. Usually that doesn’t happen — and I will tell you why.
The child protective services agent is there at your door to gather evidence. Usually, he doesn’t have enough real evidence to detain your child right away and there is not enough “probable cause” to obtain a search warrant.
Don’t Trust CPS Social Workers
In other words, know the enemy. Know who child protective services workers are. The typical child protective services social worker is there for one reason: to have a job to pay his/her bills. This worker cannot afford to lose the job, so s/he will do whatever the supervisor says in order to maintain employment.
Now, if this child protective services social worker is put into a unit assigned to go investigate referrals and to make decisions regarding detainment of children, then naturally this person would be suspect if s/he never detained a kid!
In order to maintain employment, this child protective services social worker will have to take a certain number of children into custody… therefore when they are at your home, they are thinking to themselves, “what can I find out about this family to build a case aimed at taking their kid?” They must have a case to take into court, and they are there, looking for evidence.
Even if they seem nice and harmless, remember, this is how child protective services makes money. To keep their jobs, they must take away children from their families. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They come to your door saying, “I’m just here to help.”
The next thing you know, your children are in state custody and you are in court trying to prove your innocence. Remember, even if you like the person, behind every pleasant personality is a need to keep the child protective services social worker job.
You need to understand that child protective services funding is closely tied in with “service providers”. It is likely that the social worker will offer some kind of deal, saying you can keep your kid if you agree to “services” like psychological testing, drug testing, therapy, etc.
What this offer really means is that they don’t have enough evidence to take your child into their custody, but if you will just go to their “service providers” they may get the “evidence” they need through these “service provider” reports.
Just Say “NO” To Private Interviews With Your Child
The CPS agents will want to talk to your child alone. Just say “NO”. Tell the agents that your child has the right to have an attorney present, and that if he insists on an interview then you and the attorney will be present and the interview will be recorded, preferably on videotape.
Of course, if your child is attending a public school, you probably won’t get a chance to say “no”. What would happen is that the social worker would go to the school and, behind your back, get permission to talk with your children from the school employees.
You can tell the school ahead of time (in writing) that you don’t permit such interviews, or anything other than basic education activities, however you cannot trust school employees to go by your wishes.
It might help to ask your attorney to write a letter to the school forbidding interviews with CPS workers. Keep in mind that the public schools are one of the major sources of CPS referrals.
Most Common Reasons Why CPS Is Called
Vindictive family members and ex-partners
Many times a family member or ex-partner is belittling or consistently posing a threat to the health and well-being of the child.
Some children are left alone without anyone to take care of their needs.
Sometimes a parent or partner is so addicted to drugs that they neglect or abuse their children.
Unfortunately, there are still many many cases of verbal and physical abuse against children in the U.S.
What Happens When CPS Is Called?
When CPS receives a report or tip, it must first determine whether or not an investigation is needed. A caller does not have to be certain or have proof of abuse or neglect, however, reasonable suspicion is required.
What CPS Must Consider Before It Registers a Report
Identity and Location: Can CPS identify and locate the child and family being reported?
Age of Child: Depending on state law, CPS usually only investigates cases of children under 18 years old.
Jurisdiction: Does CPS have jurisdiction? For example, California CPS has jurisdiction over cases where the abuse happened in California. California CPS also has jurisdiction if the abuse happened in another state, but the child now lives in California.
Person Legally Responsible: Is the abuser a parent, legal guardian, foster care provider, or other adult responsible for the child’s care? If not, CPS does not have jurisdiction.
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.
What If CPS Determines That There’s Abuse or Neglect?
If Child Protective Services determines that there may be abuse or neglect, a report will be registered, and then CPS will begin an investigation. CPS will most-likely also make a report to the police.
After this, the police may conduct their own investigation (the investigation will usually occur within 24 hours of a report).
CPS will 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.
Examinations: The caseworker may request medical or psychological examinations of your child to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred.
Explanations: Within a reasonable time, usually 24 hours after all interviews, the caseworker will explain to you the allegations against you or another family member, and allow you to explain the circumstances of any injuries or safety concerns.
1. What are Child Protective Service Agency (CPS) and what do they do?
CPS is an agency responsible for protecting children from being abuse or neglected.
2. Does CPS or ACS have an absolute right to interrogate my child?
CPS and ACS workers, by statute, are entitled to interview your child. If you refuse to give them an interview at your home, they may go to the child’s school and interview him or her there.
3. Can a CPS worker refuse to tell me why they are investigating you?
No! CPS workers are to advise you of the allegations that are against you when they first contact with you . The allegations should be specific. They should not be simply child abuse or child neglect.
4. CPS or ACS may be making specific demands upon you. Do you need to comply?
No! CPS and ACS investigators make all types of ridiculous, condescending, inappropriate, non-factually backed demands upon parents. They claim that these demands are backed by law and the parents need to comply.
5. What rights, if any, do children removed from a parents home have?
They have the right to be protected, free from harm, danger, child abuse and child neglect. Also, they have a right to have appropriate health care and have emotional and psychological problems dealt with. Also they are also entitled to shelter, food, and have their basic needs met.
Child Protective Services investigations are scary, intimidating times for a family. But remember that CPS has its limits and families have rights. And remember that there is a network of attorneys across the globe waiting to represent you during every step of an investigation, whether the allegations concern homeschooling or not.