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What Happens When CPS Is Called?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

For many parents, having child protective services (CPS) show up at your doorstep is more terrifying than the police knocking at your door.

A common misconception is that a CPS investigation means your child is going to be taken away. While it does happen, a call to CPS is not a guarantee of anything.

So, what does happen when CPS is called?

The Call

When CPS receives a report or tip, it must first determine whether or not an investigation is needed. While a caller does not have to be certain or have proof of abuse or neglect, reasonable suspicion is required. Before CPS registers a report and starts an investigation, it must consider:

  1. Identity and Location - Can CPS identify and locate the child and family being reported?
  2. Age of Child - Depending on state law, CPS usually only investigates cases of children under 18 years old.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

If CPS determines that there may be abuse or neglect, a report will be registered, and CPS will begin an investigation. CPS will probably also make a report to the police who may conduct their own investigation.

The Investigation

The investigation will usually occur within 24 hours of a report. In this phase, CPS will take the following steps:

  1. 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. While the caseworker may want to interview your child alone, they are usually required to record the interview.
  2. Examinations - The caseworker may request medical or psychological examinations of your child to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred.
  3. 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.

The Aftermath

If the caseworker determines that there is no evidence of abuse or neglect, the case is closed and the records are usually sealed.

If the caseworker determines that there is evidence of abuse or a risk of abuse, CPS may:

  1. Create a Service Plan: In most cases, CPS will try to work with the family to protect the interests of the child. CPS offers many services including psychiatric counseling, group therapy, parent support services, and more.
  2. Remove the Child: If CPS determines that there are no reasonable efforts that can keep your child safe in your home, CPS will get a court order and take custody of your child. If CPS determines that your child is in immediate danger, CPS may remove your child before getting a court order. When this happens, the court will review your case the next working day to determine if the removal was necessary and proper.

If you are investigated by CPS, you have the right to consult a lawyer at any time. An experienced family attorney will be able to help guide you through this ordeal.

Related Resources:

  • Find Family Law Attorneys Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
  • Daughter Removed Over $5 Safeway 'Sandwich Theft' (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
  • Who Has a Duty to Report Child Abuse? (FindLaw's Blotter)
  • When Can Parental Rights Be Terminated? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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