No parent wants to find that the person knocking on their door is an investigator from California’s Child Protective Services. Child Protective Services (“CPS”) is a department within the California Department of Social Services that is charged with preventing and addressing child abuse and neglect throughout California. The role of the department is to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, and remove children from circumstances where those children are facing abuse and/or neglect. Often times, especially in acrimonious divorce situations where parents cannot find ways to communicate effectively, CPS may be used as a tool to hurt the other parent and secure full custody of children by making false accusations of abuse and/or neglect toward the other parents. In some of these situations, the person reporting such allegations may actually believe the allegations to be true.
However, regardless of the reason that a call was placed to CPS, the charges you could face as a result are almost always criminal. CPS involvement can be a very serious matter, one that can greatly complicate your relationship with your child and your spouse/ex-spouse. A CPS investigation can significantly impact your custody of your child, regardless of a custody agreement that may be in place. If CPS is knocking on your door, there are some steps you can take to make the potential legal process that follows smoother and easier to navigate. Even by taking these steps, you may still be facing a difficult road ahead, but taking them will help ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. The following suggestions are not listed in any particular order. Some may be more important than others depending on your circumstances, but reading through each of them carefully can help you understand how you should respond throughout the CPS process.
Do Not Voluntarily Admit CPS into Your Home
Unless the CPS agents/investigators requesting access to your home have a warrant, you do not have to admit them into your home. CPS agents are trained to find any number of dangerous circumstances present in your home, ranging from simple safety code violations to leaving sharp kitchen utensils on the counter while you answer the door. Any of these infractions can lead a CPS investigator to determine that your child’s environment is unsafe and poses a risk to the child’s well-being, especially if the agent believes accusations that may have been leveled against you regarding abuse. Don’t give them an open invitation to find excuses to remove your child if you are not legally required to do so by warrant. By the same token, if they call to make an appointment with you, take the opportunity to “put your best foot forward” with a clean and safe home environment.
Do Not Respond to CPS Questions Without an Attorney
As mentioned, many CPS charges in California are criminal matters. Just as you should not speak to police outside of the presence of your attorney, you should not speak to CPS investigators outside of the presence of your attorney if the allegations against you are of a criminal matter or potentially used against you in custody litigation. CPS agents can use your responses against you. Any answers you provide can be used against you at a later time. Even vague, seemingly harmless comments or admissions could spell additional trouble for you so consult with your attorney before engaging in communication with the CPS agent..
While you should not answer any questions posed by CPS, you do have the right to ask of what charges you have been accused. State and federal laws prohibit CPS agents from keeping this information from you, and you have a right to demand they inform you of any potential or pending charges.
Have Your Child Examined if You Are Accused of Physical Mistreatment
If a CPS agent informs you that you are being accused of any type of physical mistreatment or abuse, make sure that your child’s doctor gives them a thorough examination as soon as possible to refute that allegation. This can provide strong evidence that you have not engaged in physical abuse toward your child if you are required to appear in court regarding the charges.
Secure Legal Assistance
This is not an exhaustive list of steps to take when facing a CPS investigation. If you are facing a potential CPS investigation, and especially if one has already begun, you must make sure that you secure an attorney that has experience in handling CPS-related issues. Your attorney can provide invaluable support in helping you understand the charges you are or could be facing, and should be present with you during any questioning related to the allegations. No matter how closely you follow the advice above, or how insignificant the charges may seem to you, the CPS process can be terribly time-consuming. It can also be emotionally, physically, and financially draining. Contact JWB Family Law to schedule a consultation to discuss concerns about CPS investigations or allegations against you.