A Child Protective Service worker (CPS) called or left a card and wants to speak with you. What should I do? What do they want? Are they going to take my children away from me? You get on the Internet and do some research. You read horror story after horror story from parents about dealing with CPS. Some attorneys advise you not to talk with CPS and do not let them in your house. You may already have a family law attorney on a dissolution of marriage case and call them. They tell you don’t talk to CPS. Let the marriage dissolution judge determine custody.
I get these type calls frequently. I have been an attorney for 46 years and have been handling CPS cases for 42 years. If someone has made a call to a CPS hotline or a referral to the hotline has been made of suspected child abuse or child neglect, CPS is mandated to investigate. Depending on the risk level of the referral, they do it immediately or may wait 5 or more days to make the first contact. The job of a CPS worker is to do an investigation to determine if a child/children are at risk for child abuse or child neglect in the home. They will want to speak with the parents. They want to see the inside of the home. They make a quick assessment: does the home appear appropriate for minors? Is it clean? Is there sufficient good food in the refrigerator? Are there things observable in the home that could cause danger to the child? For example, if the CPS worker observed drugs in plain view they would be very concerned. If you have a marijuana card, where do you keep your marijuana? Is it safely kept away from the reach of children in the home? They do an assessment of the parent. Do they seem to be under the influence of drugs? Are they cooperative? Can we trust and work with this parent to make sure their kids are kept safe while we conduct our investigation? Will they take a drug test? They will have likely already talked to school-age children at their school without your knowledge about what is going on in the home. Call and consult with an attorney who has a lot of an experience working on CPS cases. If you do not know who to call, contact your local Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service for the name of an attorney to call. You will probably be able to at least get a free phone consultation.
When parents call for advice, I make an assessment of their living circumstances. I inquire about any vices they might have that might be considered a huge concern for the parents with CPS. I counsel parents how to interact with the CPS worker. In most cases, I advise the caller to permit the CPS worker into their home. I want the parents to show the CPS worker they are and will be cooperative. They will agree to a temporary Safety Plan should one be offered. They will cooperate with classes, drug treatment, and counseling should that be recommended. They will get appropriate counseling and medical help for their children should that be recommended. If I believe the continued placement of the kids with one or both of the parents is at risk, I immediately inquire about family members available to temporarily take the children until the CPS investigation is complete. I might advise one parent to leave the home temporarily if I believe that will allow CPS to leave the children with the other parent if their has been domestic violence or one parent is accused of sexual or serious child abuse to one of the children.
I tell parents the worst thing they can do is be aggressive, rude, or threatening to CPS workers. Do not tell them to go away. I encourage them to speak with the CPS worker and be cooperative. The CPS worker has a job to do. Their job is to see your children are not in a risky situation that could cause danger to your child. If the matter ends up in court, the CPS worker will put in her report how the parents were rude and aggressive towards them. The CPS worker will denigrate the parent in their report to the court. You will want the court to return your children temporarily to your home while the proceedings continue. The judge needs to know you can work with CPS and the attorneys on the case. I would much rather have the court report read the parent was cooperative. They were willing to agree to a Safety Plan. (Read my blog on Safety Plans. Child Welfare Service Safety Plans Can Be Good, Deceptive or Deadly ) Be careful of agreeing to a change in custody of your child to the other parent or to temporary placement if you believe the allegations of abuse or neglect are not true or not that serious. Will the other parent immediately go into Family Court and ask for an immediate change in custody? Can you trust the other parent? In such cases, you may want the matter to go to court and litigate the false allegations or show the court your children are safe with you. Juvenile Court is mandated to provide reunification services to parents.
Juvenile court proceedings take precedence over Family Court proceedings. The fact that a Family Court judge is considering custody or has made a custody order is not controlling with CPS or the Juvenile Court judges. If there are criminal charges filed, the criminal court can issue a Criminal Protective Order which takes precedence even over a Juvenile Court custody order. However, if the Juvenile Court judge has granted visitation or temporary placement of your child/children with you, that can be pointed out to the criminal judge and they will likely follow what the Juvenile Court judge has ordered.