Parents need to understand what CPS can and cannot do. An encounter with Child Protective Services can be traumatizing for the entire family, so it’s critically important that you understand your rights ahead of time.
As you may know from our previous posts, we’ve had a few encounters with CPS over the years. Every time, they are deemed unfounded. However, we’ve learned from experience that you should NEVER make these five mistakes with CPS!
However, this article isn’t meant to discuss our experiences. This article is designed to help you understand your rights. After all, you need to thoroughly understand what CPS can and cannot do – at least, in terms of the law.
Before we begin, please remember that we are not lawyers or social workers. We are just well-intentioned researchers who have uncovered a lot of information. You should always consult with a legal professional about your specific circumstances. You can find a free legal aid directory here.
What CPS Can Do
It is important to understand what CPS can do. Many parents do not understand the scope of this agency’s power.
CPS can investigate reports, even if they are false.
Mandated reporters are required to report any suspected child abuse. It is illegal for them not to do so. Mandated reporters include doctors, lawyers and therapists.
Of course, other people can make reports as well. This may include landlords, neighbors, friends or family members.
As a result, CPS receives a lot of reports. Not all of them are accurate. Some of them are blatantly and obviously false, like the time I was accused of having animal feces all over my home when I didn’t even own a pet.
The agency has an obligation to investigate every substantial report. However, in some cases, the report may not be substantial or severe enough to warrant investigation.
CPS can help you connect with resources.
The agency is very good at connecting families with beneficial resources. In some cases, they may even be able to provide financial assistance. CPS once pledged $500 to our power bill!
CPS can meet with your child without your permission.
This is one of the most alarming things that parents learn about CPS, but it’s true. CPS caseworkers have the right to meet with your children without your permission and without you present.
In fact, CPS will often speak to your child before they speak to you. This is to ensure that guilty parents do not have the opportunity to coach or threaten their children into providing specific answers.
Of course, this is because real abuse would never be discovered if abusive parents had to give permission or had the right to be present for interviews.
CPS can ask invasive and “nosy” questions.
The investigation process is designed to be thorough. As a result, they may ask questions that you are not comfortable with. They still have the right to ask those questions.
CPS can demand that you follow a plan.
When you work with CPS, you may be asked to comply with a safety or service plan. These are generally not court ordered and therefore cannot be enforced. However, if you fail to follow the plan, CPS can tell the court that you are not cooperative.
CPS can use whatever you say against you.
Your conversations with anyone at CPS are not confidential. Whatever you say can be used against you in court, even if it is taken out of context. Make sure you read about these five mistakes you can never make with CPS!
CPS can remove children from the home.
The caseworkers at Child Protective Services can legally remove your children from your home, but only under certain circumstances.
They need to have a court order or be able to prove that the child is in imminent danger in order to remove a child. Imminent danger could include things like physical harm, sexual contact, neglect, or firearms left in the open.
CPS can terminate your parental rights.
It is a long and time-consuming process, but CPS can terminate your parental rights. The process takes at least 18 months and a lot of court involvement. However, it is possible.
CPS findings can impact your future.
If you are investigated and the case is decided against you, the information will be visible on certain types of background checks. It may not result in a criminal conviction, but it may prevent you from participating in volunteer positions where you have unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults.
What CPS Cannot Do
You need to know what CPS cannot do before they show up. I have dealt with CPS numerous times, and they have never been forthcoming with their limitations.
CPS cannot force their way into your home.
Unless CPS has received a court order or believes there is an imminent threat to the child (such as they can hear or see the child being harmed).
CPS cannot test you for drugs without your consent.
You cannot be forced to submit to a drug test without your consent unless they have a court order.
However, there are many good reasons to consider giving consent to a drug test. Prior CPS caseworkers have stated that refusing a drug test in an attempt to avoid detection simply doesn’t work. The court order will test fingernails or hair instead of urine, and these other testing methods will reveal a longer history of drug use than a urine test.
Your Rights as a Parent
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 the accusations against you.
Sometimes, caseworkers will neglect to inform you about the allegations against you. This is sometimes intentional and sometimes accidental. However, you have the legal right to know what exact allegations have been made against you.
In the past, I have had to escalate my call to a supervisor in order to get this information. Don’t give up, though. It’s important to know what you’re up against.
You have the right to refuse entry to your home.
Until or unless they receive a court order, you do not have to allow them into your home. You have the right to refuse to let them inside.
This is important. Many parents want to appear cooperative, so they let CPS do whatever they want. However, whatever the CPS caseworker sees can and will be used against you in court, even if it does not have to do with the original allegations against you.
Refusing entry does not close the investigation. However, it may prevent you from facing other allegations.
You have the right to refuse to answer questions.
You have a right to refuse to answer any questions. Anything you say can and may be used against you, so sometimes it is better to remain silent unless you have an attorney present.
You can choose to answer some questions and not others. Simply deflect unwanted questions with something like, “I don’t think that question is relevant to the allegations.”
You can talk to the caseworker, if you want to do so. However, you need to remember that whatever you say is not confidential and can be used against you in court.
You have the right to an interpreter.
If you do not speak English, you have the right to an interpreter when interacting with CPS.
You have the right to seek legal counsel.
Contacting a lawyer is one of the first things you should do, if CPS shows up at your house. If you cannot afford an attorney, check out this list of free and cheap legal resources.
Remember that many attorneys, including family law attorneys, offer free 30 minute consultations. We have used these services in the past, when we needed help navigating issues with CPS.
You have the right to attend all court hearings about your case.
You have the right to attend every court hearing about your case – and you should! If possible, bring an attorney with you.
You have the right to pursue placement instead of removal.
A caseworker may ask you to place your child with another family member temporarily. This is different than a court-ordered removal. If you choose to do this, you may be able to avoid the legal ramifications and additional CPS involvement created by mandatory removal.
If a court order has been secured, you can still petition the court to place your child with a family member.