Parents and guardians are expected to provide proper care to their children. Generally, parents have the right to spend time with their children, even if they are not the primary custodial parent. The law protects children from harm, and if abuse or neglect is suspected, Child Protective Services (CPS) steps in to intervene. They will investigate a report of neglect or abuse and make a determination as to whether abuse or neglect likely occurred. CPS will make an administrative finding. A CPS finding of abuse or neglect can have long term effects such as disqualifying a person from working as a teacher, nurse, doctor, caregiver, volunteering at school or serving as a guardian for a minor or elderly adult.
If CPS finds that abuse or neglect likely occurred, they will take steps to ensure the child's safety. The child could be removed from the parent or guardian who is found to have abused or neglected the child. As a parent, you may disagree with the findings. You will want to take steps to appeal the Child Protective Services finding. An experienced family law attorney will help guide you through the appeal process.
What is a CPS Investigation?
Whenever a report or referral of child abuse or neglect comes into CPS they open a case to review the matter. They investigate even anonymously made reports. Remember that it is the job of CPS to provide protection for children. An investigation may be an in-depth review or a brief assessment of risk to the child. If there is moderate or great potential of risk of harm, CPS will gather information from the parties and will also likely talk to the child without the parent. They will make a finding as to the likelihood that abuse or neglect has occurred.
What Can I Do if I am Under Investigation for Child Abuse or Neglect?
Typically, if you are the subject of an investigation of child abuse or neglect, CPS will contact you to talk to you about the allegation. They will also contact anyone with immediate knowledge of the matter. In some instances, a criminal complaint was the source of the referral. In these cases, the police will be involved. The CPS investigation could result in criminal charges in addition to other consequences, such as being restricted from spending time with the child.
It is important to speak politely with the CPS investigator. This can be difficult, especially if you feel that the allegation is false. Keep in mind that what you say could be used later in a criminal case. Even if you are completely innocent, you will want to be careful when speaking with an investigator. One of the best things you can do to protect yourself is to seek legal support as soon as possible and potentially delay speaking to CPS investigators until you have an attorney with you.
Can CPS Remove My Child From My Home?
If CPS determines that the allegations are likely true, the next step will be to ensure the safety of the child. CPS may refer the matter to the police. The police take these matters seriously and will work to determine whether a crime occurred and potentially take action to keep the alleged perpetrator away from the child. There are several circumstances in which a child may be put into protective custody. The police may decide to place the child in protective custody, a doctor at a hospital may request the child be placed in protective custody, or the parent or legal guardian may agree to the voluntary placement.
When CPS requests a child be taken out of the home and into protective custody, it will be for an initial period of 72 hours under a Dependency case petition. A Shelter Care Hearing must occur within 72 hours of a child being removed from a parent or legal guardian. An extended court order may be issued to place or keep the child in protective custody if they find that the child is in an unsafe living condition. The CPS investigation will weigh heavily on future decisions regarding child placement and visitation matters. The CPS findings may be used in family court proceedings. If you feel you have been wrongly accused, you have the option to appeal Child Protective Services findings.
Can I Appeal a CPS Finding?
If CPS has found that you likely abused or neglected the child, you have the right to appeal the CPS determination. To appeal, you must submit a written request to reconsider the finding directly to CPS. You must appeal the decision within 30 days of the finding. If you fail to appeal during that time, you will forfeit your right to request an appeal.
Your attorney can handle this contact to ensure that it is done properly. It is also important to submit documentation and information that will be helpful in the review. CPS will review the matter internally. They will evaluate the case using CPS staff who were not involved in the original investigation.
If CPS re-evaluates the case and changes its determination, it will issue a new report regarding its findings. If CPS changes its determination to “unfounded” that clears up the situation at the administrative level. (There may still be other action in court or with police.) However, if the reconsideration yields the same result, you may appeal that finding. You have 30 days to request a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ is part of the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings. The ALJ is a neutral who will make a determination whether or not to maintain the CPS finding. If either party disagrees with the decision, they can request a court review.
Seek Legal Guidance
It is in your best interest to seek legal guidance in the matter as soon as possible. If you are part of a CPS investigation, you will want to discuss the situation with a qualified attorney right away. Do not delay because the sooner you involve your attorney, the better your outcome will likely be. Remember that your attorney understands these types of investigations and has experience working with CPS and the police. Your attorney will gather information about the case and work on your behalf to obtain the best possible outcome.
Remember, there are opportunities to appeal Child Protective Services findings if you believe them to be unfounded. To learn more and to get the compassionate legal assistance you need, contact our attorneys at View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning. We are here to help answer your questions and help you through this difficult time. Call View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning today at (206) 210-1562 today.