Knowing that someone believes you are neglecting or abusing your children is extremely uncomfortable. So many rumors surround CPS actions that it’s difficult to know what to think. While CPS isn’t the monster many think, neither are you.
Here is what the CPS is all about and how you can conduct yourself to achieve the best outcome from a CPS investigation.
A CPS Overview
Child Protective Services is an agency charged with investigating child abuse and neglect allegations. The Texas Attorney General’s office requires anyone who witnesses or suspects a child has been abused to report it to the local police or CPS, including child abuse allegations, child neglect, abandonment, exploitation, or child endangerment. A report or investigation may result in removal or protection orders.
Typically, cases are referred by the DFPS (Department of Family and Protective Services) Investigations Division.
CPS offers family services and child protective services.
Family services include:
- Family-based safety services
- Family group decision-making
- Parenting classes
- Other services to strengthen families so children can stay safe at home with their parents
Child protective services include:
- Providing services to children and families in their own homes
- Placing children in foster care
- Providing services to help youth in foster care successfully transition to adulthood
- Helping children get adopted
CPS does not automatically take your children away upon first contact. As long as none of the following occurs, your children will likely remain in your care for the investigation’s duration:
- Physical, education, medical, or emotional neglect
Once someone contacts CPS, the agency begins contact proceedings and an investigation if one is warranted.
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CPS Investigation Overview and Stages
Once contacted, CPS assigns a caseworker to investigate and look for evidence supporting or refuting the allegations of child abuse or neglect. When the caseworker visits your home, they can examine your child for injuries or signs of neglect. They have the authority to get copies of police reports, school records, and medical data. Your child may be examined for medical or psychological purposes.
CPS can inspect your home and take pictures. They can also speak to neighbors, teachers, doctors, and relatives while determining the course of the case.
The investigation begins with the caseworker speaking with the person making the complaint. Then they interview the child, the parents, and other family members. They will ask whether you discipline the child and how you do it. They ask how you meet the child’s daily needs and how you handle difficult situations.
The caseworker inspects the child’s home to look for evidence to prove or disprove the allegations made in the complaint. If needed, they pull in other experts and professionals to help them. The agency decides how to intervene if the caseworker finds evidence supporting the complaint.
If your child is thought to be at immediate risk of harm, the CPS caseworker might remove the child from your home.
The CPS investigation takes place in phases:
- The initial investigation
- The full investigation
- The safety plan
- Removal of the child, if necessary
- Reunification with the child, if removed
Each phase follows a different process.
When someone reports a family to CPS, the case is classified according to the seriousness of the allegations. Classifications span from P3 to P1. When classified as P1, the agency may remove your child from home due to immediate risk of harm.
Otherwise, depending on the classification, the investigator conducts an initial investigation at home or makes a school visit to speak with your child. They also speak with the complainant, witnesses, parents, and others.
Once the initial investigation is complete, CPS has 45 days to conduct a full investigation starting from the intake date. The agency might request an extension to 90 days if the investigator requests it.
The investigator uses the time to gather more evidence to support or refute the child abuse or neglect claim. A thorough home inspection and child interview show whether the child is at immediate risk of harm.
While you have the right to deny entry to the caseworker, the agency can obtain a court order that allows the caseworker into your home. Denying access may work against you.
During this investigation, the caseworker speaks with people familiar with the child, such as teachers and doctors. They run a criminal background check on people allegedly abusing or neglecting the child, then determine if there is immediate risk and the child requires removal or if the child can remain with its parents.
The caseworker may ask you to agree to the removal and place the child with a relative or family friend.
CPS creates a safety plan after determining whether abuse occurred. Then the agency asks the parents to sign the plan, a written agreement between the parents and the agency providing short-term solutions addressing specific concerns for child safety. A refusal to sign may result in the child entering foster care.
Removal and Reunification
In emergency situations or by court order, CPS can remove a child from home. If the risk is immediate, a caseworker can remove a child and then ask for a court order. A suitable family friend or relative approved by CPS takes charge of the child. If none are available, CPS places the child in foster care.
If the parent or caregiver under investigation takes the proper steps, the child is allowed back into their care. In extreme cases, CPS may seek to have parental rights terminated.
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The caseworker closes the investigation with a particular disposition.
Reason to Believe (RTB) indicates the caseworker confirmed that abuse or neglect likely occurred, and you may lose conservatorship of your child. The child will be removed, although you may have supervised visits.
Unable to Determine (UTD) means the caseworker reasonably believes a report of abuse is more likely to have occurred than not. However, they did not find enough evidence to support the complaint.
Ruled Out (RO) is the most favorable outcome and means the investigator found that the reported abuse or neglect did not occur. RO is also used if the abuser is a child under nine.
Unable to Complete (UTC) means the caseworker cannot, for some reason, complete the investigation. Administrative Closure (AC) occurs when additional found during the investigation determines that the investigation is no longer warranted.
What You Should Do
If you are under investigation from Child Protective Services, speak with an attorney who handles family law, including CPS cases. An attorney may receive more respect from the agency than you do as a parent. A lawyer can help with communication with CPS.
Make sure CPS has the name and contact information of anyone who can provide more information about harm if any occurred. The assessment goes quicker if you cooperate with data collection.
You aren’t required to speak to CPS if you don’t want to, but it could lead to the caseworker believing you have something to hide. Perception is everything. Be honest when speaking to CPS – don’t hide damaging information or invent answers to make yourself look good.
If the caseworker determines abuse or neglect occurred, the agency helps you rehabilitate your family. Retaining an attorney can streamline the entire process.