If you’re dealing with CPS, you’ve probably wondered, “What does CPS look for in a home visit?” I have been visited by CPS a few times, and it’s always stressful… but I’ve done some research and figured out what CPS is actually looking for when they visit your home.
Before we begin, I need to remind you that I am not a lawyer or social worker. I am a journalist with extensive CPS experience. I have written and reported on this topic several times in the past. If you need advice about your specific situation, I’ve aggregated a list of free legal aid help here.
Wait – do you know your rights?!
When CPS comes knocking, you have rights. Make sure you know what they are, because this is definitely one of those things that you need to know before CPS shows up at your house.
For example, if the caseworker does not have a warrant, you do not have to let them in. You can refuse entry. You can find more information about this in our other articles, “What CPS Can and Cannot Do” and “What are my rights with Child Protective Services?“
What does CPS look for in a home visit?
To find an answer to this question, we turned to federal and state publications. There are many theories surrounding this topic, but we wanted to know actual, factual truth from the source.
So, according to a variety of state and federal laws, regulations and handbooks, here is the answer to “what does CPS look for in a home visit?”
Remember, the overall goal is to determine whether or not a child is safe at home. These things are just specific benchmarks that help them make that determination.
Cleanliness was always my primary concern when CPS was called on me. However, I was repeatedly assured by caseworkers that I had nothing to worry about. They are more concerned with ensuring sanitary conditions than a sparkling clean living environment, so you can breathe easy. Life with kids is messy, and CPS knows that.
Hopefully, like me, you’ll be relieved to know that perfection is not the answer to “What does CPS look for in a home visit?”
CPS looks for human and animal feces in the home. Unfortunately, they sometimes find it.
Insect and rodent infestations are generally considered an indicator of unsanitary living conditions. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it is something that CPS will look for in a home visit.
Rotten food is something that CPS caseworkers are trained to look for during a home visit.
Piles of dirty laundry are not good. Laundry piles should be avoided altogether. If you must have piles of laundry, piles of clean laundry are far preferable.
One of the answers to “What does CPS look for in a home visit?” is actually what they smell. The smell of your home can tell someone a lot about how clean it is on a regular basis. Even if it looks clean, a lingering odor can betray past negligence.
Tidiness is important. If a house is tidy, it will usually be clear of tripping or choking hazards. It will also be free of clutter that could pose a danger if a fire or other emergency were to happen.
There should not be any trash in the house. Trash is a major red flag for CPS caseworkers.
CPS will look for running, clean water because this is considered a sanitary need. They will check for flushing toilets and other functional utilities.
There are many types of safety hazards that CPS looks for in a home visit. This is probably the most important answer to “What does CPS look for in a home visit?”
Do you know the temperature of your hot water? CPS may check the temperature to ensure that your children are not in danger of scalds or burns.
Small objects left in the reach of very young children can present a choking hazard. CPS will take note of any risks that are present in your home.
Any drug paraphernalia is a red flag. Second-hand smoke in the home is also something that CPS will pay attention to, especially if the children have asthma or other lung problems.
Sometimes, older and cheaper homes can be quite dangerous. Exposed wiring, broken appliances, shattered glass and even dangerous neighborhoods can pose extra risks to children. Broken outlet covers could also be a problem.
Be mindful of anything that could pose a trip hazard, fall hazard, electrical hazard, or any sort of safety hazard. CPS will take note of all these things during a home visit.
The good news is that the agency may be able to provide help fixing many of these issues. They may be able to provide funding, negotiate with landlords or provide resources to help you remedy some of these problems.
Are any doors or windows permanently blocked or closed? If so, that may pose a danger in case of a fire or other emergency. This is something that will always get a caseworker’s attention.
They will also want to know if the smoke alarms work. After all, when it comes to “What does CPS look for in a home visit?”, safety is the ultimate answer.
Guns & Weapons
If guns and other weapons are accessible to children, that’s a major problem. Weapons should be stored in a locked cabinet, out of reach and inaccessible to children. Firearms should not be loaded and ammunition should be stored in a separate location.
Chemicals & Cleaning Products
Many household cleaners, medications and home improvement products can be poisonous. They need to be stored safely out of reach of children. It is recommended to keep medications (including over-the-counter medications) in a locking cabinet.
Other safety hazards
Other general safety hazards will be searched for as well. These may include things like stairs without gates, lack of safety restraints in your vehicles, etc.
Many families are surprised to learn that when it comes to “What does CPS look for in a home visit?” the answer is always “sleeping arrangements.” Even if your complaint has nothing to do with a child’s sleeping arrangement, this issue will most likely be addressed by your caseworker.
Children under the age of 18 months should sleep in a crib, free of blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, bumper pads and other materials.
Any bunk beds must have railings on both sides of the upper tier to prevent falls. Children who are sleeping in the top bunk should be old enough and mature enough to do so safely. Generally, no child under the age of six years old should sleep in a top bunk.
CPS generally does not approve of boys and girls sharing a bedroom after the age of five years old. If there is any way to avoid that, it should be avoided.
Does the child have adequate clothing? Is their clothing clean?
As they check the child’s room, they’ll see the child’s sleeping arrangements, bedding, toys, and other possessions. These are all considered indicators of whether or not a child is well cared for.
The child must have a safe place to sleep. Generally, alternatives like closets and hallways are not considered safe bedrooms because each bedroom should have a window that can open in case of an emergency.
The kitchen plays an important role in every family’s life. It shouldn’t be a surprise that CPS takes a special interest in this space.
CPS will want to see that you have food in the house, and that the food is available to your children. The refrigerator should be clean and well-stocked. The pantry and/or cupboards should have food. There should not be a lock on the kitchen door, fridge or cupboards that would prevent the child from accessing food if the child is hungry.
They will want to make sure that there is no rotting food in the kitchen.
They will also want to make sure that there are no unsecured knives or other dangerous objects within reach of the children.
If you’re worried about “what does CPS look for in a home visit?” and you have pets, then you have a few extra things to consider.
Litter boxes, shedding fur and other pet-related messes will be a cause for concern with the caseworker. If your pet is indoors, make sure that the pet’s messes are taken care of.
CPS will want to know if your pets are well cared for. If you allow your pets to have an infestation untreated, it will reflect poorly on your caregiving.
There are some dangers that can exist outside your home, also. If you are renting an apartment, these aren’t necessarily things you need to worry about. If you’re in a home, however, we need to add these things to the list of “What does CPS look for in a home visit?”
If the home is located near a busy road, the yard should be adequately fenced to keep small children safe from getting into the road.
If a pool or water feature is present, it should be fenced or gated so that younger children cannot fall in.