CPS is at your door. Do you know your rights?
First, ask to see the investigator's ID. Get his/her name, business card if possible and ID number because there have been impersonators.
Child Protective Services, whatever name they go by in your state, is nothing more than a government funded social services agency. Their job is to provide services such as advocacy, safety, counseling, and protection for children who are found to be victims of the crime of child abuse or neglect. They receive funding based on how many children they can provide services for, so it is in their best interests to find abuse or neglect when it is reported.
What CPS is NOT is a law enforcement agency. They are a social services agency. None of their staff are qualified or trained to investigate a crime, gather evidence, follow proper judicial procedure when interviewing witnesses, or any other law enforcement training necessary to properly investigate a crime. Additionally, and what most people don't know about CPS, is that they actually cannot, by law, remove a child from a home without proper judicial procedure. In fact, CPS can't actually remove a child from a home at all. Only a law enforcement agency assigned by the court can remove a child and then that law enforcement agency will, as directed by the court, hand the child over to the social services agency.
As an accused, or a parent, you technically have all of your constitutional rights. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right against self-incrimination. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking about the allegations and to have that attorney present during questioning. Everything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to be secure in your person, house, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. Social workers are bound to obey the U.S. Constitution when investigating child abuse cases, said a unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in an opinion handed down Thursday, August 26, 1999. Although they often have not been properly trained to investigate such cases or uphold such rights.
When CPS investigators come to your door, you do not have to let them in, unless they have a search warrant. A police officer may accompany the CPS agent, but the same rules apply. You are not required to cooperate with a CPS investigation, and though they may try intimidation, scare tactics or even blatant lies, they cannot, without probable cause (and an anonymous phone call to a hotline has been held up in court time and time again to NOT be probable cause enough to enter a home), investigate or enter the home of the child(ren) without one of three conditions being met: probable cause, a court order or parental consent. You may also tell the CPS worker to leave at any time if they do not have a warrant.
However you should not simply hang-up or refuse to cooperate. CPS only needs a “reasonable suspicion” of child abuse (physical or emotional) to temporarily seize children.
You may request a meeting at the CPS office.
It is Unconstitutional for CPS to conduct an investigation and/or interview a child on private property without exigent circumstances or probable cause. The mere possibility of danger does not constitute an emergency, exigent circumstance or probable cause. Please note, public school is NOT private property and CPS can and likely will interview your child(ren) at school without your prior knowledge or consent. All they need is the consent of school officials. Most public schools will allow CPS in to interview ANY child, whether or not the child is the actual subject of the investigation. 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 abide by your wishes.
CPS may go to "any public place" and interview your child(ren) without your permission. However, they may interview ONLY the child(ren) who is the subject of the investigation. In several instances CPS has violated this statute by entering a private place, such as a day care, or private school or by interviewing another child who is not the subject of the investigation, as young as four years old, without parental permission. This is against the law. Many private school officials believe that they have a legal obligation to allow CPS into their building in the course of an investigation. They do not.
Be sure your child(ren) know that they have the right to say, “I don’t want to be interviewed without my parents and an attorney and a tape recorder present.” CPS workers will not tell your child(ren) that s/he has that right.
All CPS interviews conducted during an investigation with alleged victim children are required to be electronically recorded with some exceptions. Some exceptions include when the CPS social worker determines that:
The child’s safety may be endangered by electronic recording of the interview.
Electronic recording is impractical due to the child’s age and development level. The child refuses to participate.
The investigation team, which may include law enforcement, determines that electronic recording is inappropriate.
Note: These exceptions are left to the discretion of the investigator or agent.
Government officials investigating possible child abuse cannot conduct an invasive bodily search of a child without parental permission unless a judge has ruled in advance that such a search is warranted. You do have the right to request bodily search be done by or in the presence of a medical professional.
If possible you should immediately have your child(ren) physically examined by a private, non-CPS affiliated, physician. The physician should be very thorough in his/her exam so that s/he can immediately write a letter stating that no bruises, marks, or health concerns were found on the child that in any way would create any suspicion of child abuse or neglect. Make copies of such a letter and present it to a CPS agent. If it is at all possible in the your mind that emotional abuse may be alleged, then the you should also have the child(ren) questioned by a child psychiatrist and have a similar report prepared immediately.
Speak as little as possible and as politely as possible. The less said, the better. CPS workers usually show up at your door with little to no evidence. If they are acting on an anonymous tip, they have NOTHING. They cannot get a court order on an anonymous tip. The only thing they can use against you is information you give them. Do not lie but do not offer anything. Try to keep your answers to simple yes or no answers. Even seemingly insignificant or helpful information can be used against you. Example: Mentioning that someone is undergoing medical, psychiatric or therapeutic help may seem to prove your treating any possible conditions. However the investigator likely didn't know you had such a condition and now they can say you have a history of health/mental health/substance abuse issues. Mentioning prior CPS contact means they can go find said files (including juvenile records) and use them as proof of prior bad acts.
Ask what the allegations are. CPS will not give you a copy of the report but will generally tell you what the allegations are. Ask the investigator to read the report to you and write it down word for word. If necessary ask the them to wait while you make notes. If they will not read it write down their summarization of the allegations word for word.
Whatever you do, keep records of everything. Record the date and time of every conversation you have with CPS agents, every visit every phone call. Also keep record of any visits you make to your child's doctor or counselor. And every visit or phone call with your lawyer (if you have one). In short, document everything that might have any bearing on your case.
Do NOT sign their plans. Do NOT admit to anything. Force them to PROVE their cases in court, in a FULL TRIAL. Don’t accept just a hearing where you are coerced to sign guilty to the charges. They will try every trick in the book to get you to agree to their “service plans”. Stand firm and just say “no” when they ask you to sign your legal rights away. Often, after the CPS worker has taken the child(ren), they may offer to give back the child(ren) contingent upon parents signing an admission of guilt or neglect, waiver of a right to trial, and/or pledge to undergo CPS supervised “parental training”. All parents should seek competent legal counsel before signing such a document.
CPS must begin their investigation within 24hrs of receiving a report and has 30 days to complete an investigation unless extenuating circumstances require an extension. These reports are NOT public record however you may obtain a redacted copy (edited to ensure its release complies with applicable laws and rules. This usually includes removing specific personal and identifying information). You will need to look up the specific forms required by your state and send the completed form and all required documents to the court or public agency for copies of such records.
I strongly recommend everyone investigate and make themselves aware of your rights and responsibilities. Research the laws specific to your state and the policies specific to your state agency. Print and keep on had those laws and policies as well as your child(ren)s medical history and records, your lawyers contact information and any important contact information.
Often times removal from the home is damaging. "Protective custody" is often more dangerous than the environment the child(ren) have been removed from.
The rate of "substantiated" cases of sexual abuse in foster care is more than four times higher than the rate in the general population. Physical abuse is three times higher in foster homes. In group homes there was more than ten times the rate of physical abuse and more than 28 times the rate of sexual abuse as in the general population, in part because so many children in the homes abused each other.
Those studies deal only with reported maltreatment. The actual amount of abuse in foster care is likely to be far higher, since agencies have a special incentive not to investigate such reports, since they are, in effect, investigating themselves. One massive study indicated an estimated 24% of children removed from their homes reported abuse while in foster care.
Certainly there are some individual cases among the thousands studied in which foster care was the less harmful alternative. But what the data makes clear is that foster care is vastly overused, damaging large numbers of children who would do better in life had they remained in their own homes, even with the minimal help most child welfare agencies offer to families.
Note: I am not a lawyer or public official. I've simply researched and complied this information when a friend had his child removed after being investigated by CPS for false abuse allegations made by his daughter's school. While in foster care his daughter was the victim of abuse.