The last thing any parent wants to deal with when it comes to their children is the Child Protective Services (CPS), the Agency charged with investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. The ever-present threat of CPS inserting themselves into your lives is something that any parent is cautious of since. Worse yet, you never know what could spark an investigation. All you know is that you’re sitting at home with your kids one day, perhaps watching TV or a movie with them – maybe they are doing remote learning for schoolwork – and there is a letter in the mail or a knock at the door. Its CPS come to investigate a complaint they received. Coupled with the fact that those who call the hotline and report you remain anonymous (though sometimes you can figure it out), it is important to remain vigilant when it comes to dealing with this Agency.
First and foremost, throughout the entire process be sure to check the identification of each person you encounter. Be sure the COVID protocols are being followed which means if you require them to be masked and socially distanced, communicate that to them. Get every person’s name you speak to, their contact information, and request a business card if they have one. You are the only one who can assure every contact with CPS is documented, and without a case worker name, Team identifier and contact information, you’ll have a more difficult time proving your contacts and cooperativeness. You also have the right to have an attorney present when you are interviewed. So if you know and investigation is coming, be sure to reach out to counsel for advice.
While it may be overwhelming to try and comply with everything CPS wants you to do while remaining cognizant of all the COVID issues, below are some suggestions to help stay on top of it all. As mentioned, documentation is important. Dedicate a separate notebook to keep track and keep the information all in the same place. This helps you ensure you remember the details by having it written down. Many people insist that they are fine by only keeping an electronic log such as in their phones notes section, but it is strongly recommended that a physical journal be kept. This is because potential technological problems could arise. Phones can be broken and hacked, and texts can be lost and altered. If text messages are used by CPS, ask them to start using email – that way a digital trail is created and is easier to reproduce if needed. Use the separate log to document things chronologically. This not only keeps all information in this one place, which can be copied if needed, but you and your attorney will have it to refer to in the event of litigation. Document each contact, agency, location, phone number, and person you spoke to, whether on the phone or virtual. And keep this out of the reach of your children – they should not be involved in the process and should be kept unaware of the process as much as possible.
CPS’s first obligation is to ensure the safety and welfare of the children. Depending on what the allegations against you, this may mean an inspection of your home, and possibly talking to your children alone. This can be scary for children. Do not discuss the allegations with them, but assure the children everything is fine and they are safe with the CPS case worker.
If the caseworker feels continued contact with CPS is called for after the initial visit, CPS is required to develop a preventive and/or safety plan. This is required to prevent the removal of children from the parents and home . This is where the real difficulty lies with the COVID issues we are all facing. A preventive plan often contains preventive service recommendations, such as parenting classes, counseling services for the parents and sometimes for the children. It can also include assistance with food, emergency housing, clothing, school supplies if needed, medical or dental attention referrals, day or child care referrals, and the like.
But COVID has changed the way these service providers interact with persons. There are often long waiting lists for services, and in some instances, agencies that provided these valuable services have closed their doors, lacking funding to continue, or in some instances, are simply unable to transition to virtual service alternatives. So as parents struggle to keep children connected to their academic programs, there is the further struggle to access service providers necessary to meet the requirements for CPS. The failure to meet CPS’s requirements can have a long-term impact on a parent’s life.
What can you do? First, get everything in writing from the caseworker. If they are recommending a parenting program, get the referral in writing, including date of referral, location, and contact information. Ask the case worker to document their objectives in making that referral d as well. What is it the CPS worker expects will be accomplished by this referral? That way, you have a clearer understanding of the goal and objective.
Next, ask if there are online alternatives that CPS would find acceptable. There are many parenting classes available online. CPS does not usually make online class referrals, but in these times of COVID precautions there is a sound and reasonable basis for making the request. The same is true of any type of counseling services being recommended including domestic violence supportive services. Long waiting lists at agencies can result in CPS taking a dim view of a parent’s slow engagement of services. So while CPS may prefer a particular agency for a parent to work with, ask if an online resource might also be acceptable at least until a spot opens up with the agency CPS wants a parent to engage with.
As always, document each call or online search you make, with dates, times and method of contact and who you spoke to. If you don’t keep track of it, CPS will not know either. CPS is required to record in their case notes each contact with a parent, the substance of the contact, as well as the date and time. So routinely contact the caseworker with updates on your efforts to sign up for services, and your efforts to engage with providers. If your caseworker is not available to talk to, ask to be connected to their supervisor, and make sure you document who you spoke to. We always think we’ll remember all the pertinent details, but as time goes on, it gets harder. Document, document, document – and do it at the time of contact!
And throughout the process, ensure the safety of yourself and your children by always following COVID precautions. CPS workers are in many locations and enter many different people’s homes in the course of a day and week. They are trained in COVID protocols, but you will be best served by being sure you and your children are masking, socially distancing and doing all that is necessary to keep your family safe and healthy.
Family matters involving CPS are always stressful, and it’s important that you know what you need to do to ensure your families wellbeing. No matter the current situation, our attorneys are here to help by offering you experienced legal advice and representing you in court. For more information or to schedule an initial consultation, contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at (888) 529-4543 or email@example.com