Have you ever wondered, “What are my rights with Child Protective Services?” Even if you haven’t been investigated by this agency, it’s important to understand your rights so that you never make a critical mistake that could threaten your family.
A CPS investigation can happen at any time, even when you least expect it. It’s important to always be prepared in advance. Otherwise, you might make one of these five critical mistakes when CPS arrives at your door.
Of course, it’s important to remember that I am not a lawyer or social worker. I am just a journalist with more personal CPS experience than I would like. For advice about your specific situation, please contact a qualified attorney (you can find free legal help here).
If you’re wondering, “What are my rights with Child Protective Services?” then you should start by learning what CPS can and cannot do according to the law. Once you’ve reviewed that, head back here for more information about your specific rights against CPS.
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What are my rights with Child Protective Services?
It is important to understand your rights because your best advocate is always yourself. You need to know what your rights are so that you can make sure they are not being violated.
You have the right to know what the accusations are.
Caseworkers will sometimes refuse to tell you what the exact allegations are. I’ve had this happen to me, personally. Sometimes it’s accidental, but sometimes it’s intentional. You may even be misled to believe that you do not have the right to know what the accusations are.
However, you always have the right to know exactly what you are being accused of doing. If your caseworker will not give you that information, speak to a supervisor. Do not give up until you get an exact answer.
You have the right to refuse entry.
Until or unless they receive a court order, you do not have to let anyone in your home. You have the right to say no.
Many parents want to appear cooperative, so they let the caseworker do whatever they want. However, whatever they see can and will be used against you in court even if it has nothing to do with the original allegations.
For more information about why the right to refuse entry is so important, visit this post about the 5 most common mistakes people make with CPS.
You have the right to refuse to answer.
Anything you say can and will be used against you, so you have the right to refuse to answer. Sometimes it’s better to remain silent until you have an attorney with you.
You can invoke your right to refuse to answer at any time. You can answer some questions but refuse to answer others. If you don’t want to be confrontational, you can simply deflect the question with something like, “I don’t think that’s relevant to the allegations.”
If you can’t afford an attorney, check out our list of free legal aid clinics.
You have the right to an interpreter.
If you do not speak English well, you have the right to an interpreter when interacting with CPS. If you are not confident in your English skills, please ensure that you get an interpreter.
You have the right to get a lawyer.
A lawyer is the best person to answer “what are my rights with Child Protective Services?”
A lawyer is essential in some cases, especially if you are a domestic violence survivor. If you can’t afford an attorney on your own, check out our list of free legal aid clinics to find affordable help in your area or look for a free 30 minute consultation with a family law lawyer in your area.
If CPS files a lawsuit against you, then you also have the right to get a free public defender. However, getting good legal help at the start of the case may help avoid the lawsuit altogether.
You have the right to ask questions.
You need to make sure that you understand the entire agreement and what the caseworkers say. You cannot afford to misunderstand what is happening.
In order to make sure that you fully understand what is happening, Washington Law Help recommends taking the following steps when speaking to CPS:
- Have a trusted friend or relative with you. This person cannot be involved in the case whatsoever.
- Ask questions when you do not understand what is being said.
- Restate what the caseworker says in your own words so that there is no misunderstanding. If you restate it, this gives the caseworker the chance to correct any misunderstandings you may have.
- Take notes. If possible, audio record the interaction.
- Keep records. Write down the date, time and duration of all of your conversations with CPS. Document the name of the person you spoke with and what they said.
You have the right to see CPS’ paperwork.
You can request all of the information and records that CPS has collected about your child, with some limited exceptions. You may need to make the request in writing in order to get this information.
The agency has the right to redact any information that is confidential, such as the names of foster providers or the person who reported you.
If your child has been taken out of your home, you also have the right to know why they took your child away, what your legal rights are, and any information about your child’s health, school progress and behavior.
In some states, there may be additional limitations and rules. For example, in Washington State, information can be withheld if it “is likely to cause severe psychological or physical harm to the juvenile or his or her parents.” There are also instances where the affected child can decide to withhold information from the parents.
You have the right to speak to your caseworker’s supervisor.
If your caseworker is not communicating, forgot something or is not treating you fairly, you can contact the caseworker’s supervisor. If you do not hear from the supervisor, call the agency’s regional manager.
I’ve had to do this a few times myself. When it comes to “what are my rights with Child Protective Services,” this is easily one of the most important things to remember.
You have the right to request placement.
If your children are going to be taken from your home, you have the right to request that they are placed with a family member instead of a random foster provider. If you voluntarily place them with someone else, you may be able to avoid the consequences of having them forcibly removed from your home.
You have the right to attend all court hearings.
You have the right to be there for every court hearing about your case – and you should be there. Bring a lawyer if you can.
You have the right to services from CPS.
Your caseworker is supposed to help support your family so that you can successfully parent your children.
They can help you find resources and get help in many different ways:
- financial help
- medical care
- child care
- job training
- parenting classes
- family planning services
- transportation services
- mental health services
- interventions for developmental delays
- drug and alcohol programs
- and more.
You have the right to get help from an advocate.
Many areas have an advocacy agency for families that are working with Child Protective Services. They can help you fully answer the question “What are my rights with Child Protective Services?” This is especially helpful because these agencies are local and will be very familiar with your state laws.
In Washington, this agency is the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman (OFCO). The agency can look at your CPS files and ask CPS officials to investigate if someone makes a mistake on your case.
You have the right to appeal decisions within a certain timeframe.
If you don’t agree with the outcomes or decisions in a case, you have the right to appeal. However, you only have so much time to appeal, so it’s important to move quickly if you decide to do this.
Do you still have questions?
Remember, asking your caseworker “what are my rights with Child Protective Services?” is not your best bet. You need to ask someone outside the system, like an attorney, to get the best possible answer.
You can always reach out to a lawyer on JustAnswer, or leave a comment below and we’ll look into getting answers.