Why is Child Protective Services at my door, and what should I do?
Child Protective Services (CPS) can knock at any door, in any neighborhood and subdivision. CPS is not limited in their investigations of reports of child neglect or abuse, and your social, professional or income tax bracket have little to no influence if you are accused of endangering a child. With a few clicks on the CPS website, anyone can make a report of abuse or neglect of children and a CPS caseworker must take it seriously. Do you know what you would do if CPS was at your door? Would you invite them in and offer them a tea? Would you start talking and sound nervous? Most people who encounter CPS caseworkers are so stunned they freeze up and do not perform well. Like any safety plan, knowing how you would conduct yourself ahead of time can help if the need should arise. A few tips in this article should give you and your friends peace of mind in the event of a CPS matter.
Child Protective Services caseworkers have significant power to safeguard children’s safety.
CPS operates within the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). “The mission of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services is to protect children, the elderly, and people with disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation by involving clients, families, and communities. In furtherance of the DFPS mission, CPS caseworkers investigate reports of child neglect or abuse and decide whether there are threats to the safety of children. The CPS caseworker can determine whether parents or legal guardians are able to recognize threats and make conditions safe for children. Alternatively, the CPS caseworker can remove one or all children from the home.
Watch this short video, a collection of testimonials from CPS workers explaining why they work for CPS and how they approach their responsibilities. While CPS caseworkers may mean well, they are held to answer whether the children are safe. When you watch the video, note that while the caseworkers interviewed are positive when talking about their work, many are younger and may not have as much parenting experience as you do, and they might not have children at all. In another video, the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs discusses turnover of CPS employees in Texas.
Texas CPS investigators write reports of their findings and recommendations. This is required in all cases where there is an inquiry about the welfare of a child. Unfortunately, even if a report is unfounded, and there is no cause to proceed further, the report may remain on file and come back to haunt someone later in time.
What to expect from a CPS caseworker and what to do if one pays you a visit.
When a CPS caseworker interviews family members, their task is to collect enough information from family members and others with personal knowledge whether children are safe, and what further actions may be warranted. The caseworker makes a decides and reports the disposition at the end of their investigation. There are several dispositions a CPS caseworker may make:
- Reason to believe abuse or neglect occurred, based on the evidence;
- Abuse or neglect ruled out based on the available information;
- Investigation unable to complete because the family may have moved;
- Unable to determine any disposition based on lack of information; or
- Administrative closure where intervention is unwarranted based on the information.
If the CPS caseworker makes a disposition that there is reason to believe abuse or neglect occurred, they have options including an offer of Department services to help the address a concern, introduce family-based safety services, and ultimately petition the court for an order to remove children from the home and in extreme cases, petition for termination of a parent’s rights.
If a CPS caseworker contacts you, it is important to take a few steps to ensure you protect your rights as a parent and are informed about the process and laws involved:
- Politely tell the CPS caseworker that you wish to speak to an attorney before any investigation continues. Seeking the advice of an experienced attorney will not trigger adverse action against you. CPS caseworkers understand when parents want to learn and assert their rights.
- Ask the CPS caseworker for a copy of any report they may have, and some basic details as to why they are visiting you and what, if anything is their immediate concern. Make a record of everything that is said and done in connection with the CPS investigation, as you might need to refer to those notes in the future.
- Do not offer any answers to detailed questions or explanations about their concerns, before talking to an experienced attorney who works on CPS and family law matters. You do not want to say something “off the cuff” you might later want to retract.
- Do not invite the CPS caseworker into your home and offer them anything. Resisting the urge to be polite and helpful can be a good idea when you have no idea what they are looking for, the same way you might not ordinarily invite police into your home.
- Do not panic. Everyone involved in a CPS matter has a job to do. The CPS caseworker is not your enemy and they are not interested in judging whether you are a good parent, they simply must determine whether children are being abused or neglected.
CPS investigations are taken seriously and they can affect the lives of people involved, whether wealthy or struggling. If you or someone you know receives a visit from a CPS caseworker, contact an experienced attorney and start asking questions. While there are some very real cases where children are in danger and need immediate protection, in most instances, the parents and attorneys work to help the CPS caseworker document their file and be on their way.
Dallas and Collin County Board Certified divorce and family law attorney, Mark Scroggins, along with their team at Scroggins Law Group advise and represent North Texas families with all their legal issues, including matters involving children and CPS.
At Scroggins Law Group, our Dallas and Collin County divorce attorneys have more than over 24 years of collective experience with family law cases. When you retain our firm, you can trust that your case is in the hands of a highly skilled, dedicated professional. we understand the unique challenges of a high value divorce case, and more importantly, have the knowledge and experience you need on your side. Call us today to learn more about Texas divorce and family law: (214) 469-3100.