Child Protective Services

 

Child Protective Services

These types of cases can be especially tricky and often have very little similarity to other types of court proceedings that people may have knowledge of. It is important to have someone who is specifically trained in these types of cases, as well as someone who routinely handles them from beginning to end to get a good idea of the process. Talk with an attorney early in the process, and most importantly, don’t sign anything that the department gives you without consulting with an attorney! Sometimes there is no reason to be concerned, and I will often tell people just that when they call me with these issues, however, decisions can be made very quickly in these processes and it is important to remember that the department is not on your side. Most of the investigators are well meaning, but their job is to investigate and gather evidence, and although they won’t warn you of it, everything you say can and will be used against you!

The typical situation is that someone will make a complaint to the department about possible harm to a child, and then DFPS will investigate the situation. After that, the situation becomes a bit more complex. If the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is investigating you, it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible. Sometimes, it is just a routine check in response to a misinformed phone call; however, in some situations, the Department can and will remove children from your home.

If the Department has already removed children from your home, it is even more vital that you consult with an attorney who will represent YOU. These proceedings can become complicated, and although many times the removal of children from the home is temporary, sometimes it is not. It is important as a parent (or other relative) to understand exactly what is going on with the process, and what you need to do to get your children back as soon as possible. I can help explain the process to you as it goes along, and give you the best chance possible of resolving the situation quickly and in your favor.

Child Protective Services caseworkers investigate reports of child abuse or neglect to determine whether any child in the reported family has been abused or neglected. Caseworkers decide if there are any threats to the safety of all children in the home. If so, they determine whether the parents are willing and able to adequately manage those threats to keep children safe. If CPS concludes that children aren’t safe, the caseworker starts protective services.

In a CPS investigation, a caseworker may interview family members and others with knowledge to get enough information to make safety decisions. At the end of the investigation, CPS makes a ruling on each allegation. This ruling is called a disposition. Dispositions include the following:

  1. Reason to believe: Abuse or neglect occurred based on a preponderance of the evidence. This means when all evidence is weighed, it is more likely than not that abuse or neglect occurred.
  2. Ruled out: Staff determines that it is reasonable to conclude that the abuse or neglect has not occurred based on the information that is available.
  3. Unable to Complete: The investigation cannot be concluded. This is usually because the family could not be located to begin the investigation or the family was contacted but later moved and could not be located to complete the investigation or the family refused to cooperate with the investigation. CPS policy outlines several actions that the caseworker must complete to make this disposition.
  4. Unable to determine: CPS concludes that none of the dispositions above is appropriate.
  5. Administrative closure: Child Protective Services intervention is unwarranted based on information that comes to light after the case is assigned for investigation.

The caseworker must also decide if there is a reasonable likelihood that a child will be abused or neglected in the foreseeable future. The caseworker does this by looking at important ways in which individuals and family behave. There are two alternatives.

  1. The caseworker concludes the children are safe because (a) no abuse or neglect is discovered and no threats to safety are identified in the current investigation or (b) the family appears willing and able, by using family and community resources, to deal with any safety threats and risk factors in their lives to ensure the safety of the child or children for the foreseeable future. If the worker concludes that children are not at risk, then the case may be closed.
  2. The caseworker concludes the children are unsafeif (a) the caseworker finds significant safety threats and risk factors, and (b) the family appears unable or unwilling to use family and community resources to deal with the risk factors to ensure the safety of the child or children for the foreseeable future.

If the caseworker concludes that the children are unsafe, then the worker may:

  • Services to address the problem.
  • Open the case for family based safety services.
  • File a petition to initiate civil court action to protect the victim. These court actions could include removing children from the home and possibly ending parental rights.

Time Frames

The caseworker makes every attempt to complete investigations within 30 days from the date the report was received by the agency. However, the supervisor can approve an extension.

Law Enforcement

All reports must be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for possible criminal prosecution. During the 78th Regular Session, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 669, requiring law enforcement to accompany CPS caseworkers when responding to Priority 1 reports of abuse/neglect that involve children who appear to face immediate risk of physical or sexual abuse.

Texas Abuse Hotline

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) runs a toll-free, statewide telephone hotline to take reports of suspected abuse or neglect. It is called the Texas Abuse Hotline. This hotline gives you a way to report:

  • Child abuse and neglect.
  • Abuse, neglect, and exploitation of adults who are 65 years of age or older or younger adults who have a disability.
  • Abuse or neglect of persons living in licensed state schools, state hospitals, state centers and community-based centers when employees in those facilities are the alleged wrongdoers.

How to Report

  • Call the Texas Abuse Hotline number at  1- 800-252-5400.
  • You may also report abuse, neglect or exploitation at www.TxAbuseHotline.orgExternal Link.
  • Professionals (like doctors, nurses, and teachers) are encouraged to use this website to report non-emergency situations to DFPS. All reports that meet the legal definitions of abuse and neglect are assigned a priority based on the level of risk and severity of harm to the child.

Report Priorities

Reports of child abuse or neglect are classified in one of two priority groups and the priority of the intake determines how quickly an investigation begins. Trained intake staff assign the appropriate priority based on the information available at the time they get the report. A CPS field supervisor may specify a more exact timeframe for starting the investigation.

Priority I Reports:

Priority I reports include all reports of children who appear to face an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or serious harm. Investigations of these reports must start within 24 hours of receiving the call report.

Priority II Reports:

Priority II reports include all reports of abuse or neglect that are not assigned as Priority I. These investigations must start within 72 hours of receiving the report.

Some reports do not meet the legal definition of abuse or neglect, as defined in the Texas Family Code, and are not assigned a priority or investigated.

Reasons for not assigning a report for investigation include:

  • Situations that do not appear to involve a reasonable likelihood that a child will be abused or neglected in the foreseeable future.
  • Allegations that are too vague or general to determine if a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected.
  • Reports with too little information to locate the child or the child’s family or household.
  • Situation that are already under investigation.

 

What is Child Protective Services?

The CPS program investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect by parents or other family or household members.

If needed, CPS may refer parents to services for help. These services may help them solve their problems and learn how to care for and discipline their children in ways that do not harm them or put them at risk of abuse or neglect. These services may include counseling, day care, homemaker services, evaluation, treatment, and parenting classes.

CPS caseworkers have identification cards. Ask to see your caseworker’s DFPS
identification card if you want to know if they really work for CPS.

 

Why is CPS visiting my family?

State law requires anybody who believes that a child has been abused or neglected to make a report to the Child Protective Services (CPS) program of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) or to a law enforcement agency. The law requires CPS to investigate these reports  to protect children.

 

What does CPS do in a child abuse or neglect investigation?

When investigating a report, a caseworker:

  • Interviews the child that may have been abused or neglected. The interview with the child must be audio taped or videotaped. The interview may be held at any reasonable time and place, including at school.
  • Makes a reasonable effort to tell you of any interviews and the nature of the allegations within 24 hours after an interview has taken place.
  • Discusses the report with you to get an explanation of any injuries, safety concerns, or risk of abuse or neglect to the child.
  • Gets criminal history information about people alleged to have abused or neglected your child.

As necessary, the caseworker may also:

  • Interview other children in the home.
  • Visually examine children in the home for signs of physical abuse or neglect.
  • Interview any other person alleged to have abused or neglected your child.
  • Interview anyone with information about the situation, including those who can verify explanations of the harm to your child.
  • Ask for access to mental health records on your child, yourself, or people alleged to have abused or neglected your child.
  • Ask for a medical, psychological, or psychiatric examination of you or your child if it is needed to find out if abuse or neglect has occurred or if there is a risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Visit the child’s home.

Please cooperate with your caseworker in taking these steps, which are authorized by law to complete the investigation.If necessary, CPS can seek a court order giving your caseworker permission to talk to or examine your children, visit your home, or get health records.

 

Will CPS talk to Law Enforcement about my case?

The law requires CPS to tell law enforcement agencies about all reports of alleged abuse or neglect. The law enforcement agency decides whether to do a criminal investigation. This is separate from the CPS investigation. You can contact the local law enforcement agency to ask about a criminal investigation. You can also contact local law enforcement if you feel that someone has made a false report against you.

 

How long does it take to complete the investigation?

Your caseworker normally completes the investigation in 30 days. This investigation allows your  caseworker to determine if:

  • Your child was abused or neglected.
  • Your child is at risk of future abuse or neglect.
  • Your child is safe.

If your child is not safe, your caseworker will determines if you need services to reduce the risk of abuse or neglect or if CPS needs to remove a child form your care.

However, your caseworker does not make these important decisions alone. Your caseworker’s supervisor must approve these decisions before your caseworker tells you about them.

 

What does “risk of child abuse and neglect mean?

Children are at risk of abuse or neglect when there is a reasonable likelihood that they will be abused or neglected (as defined by the Texas Family Code) in the near future.

 

What is a Family Team Meeting?

CPS knows that all families have strengths. Families know their children best and want them to be safe. If CPS thinks children are not safe in their current situation, CPS may ask the family to help. Your caseworker may ask that you attend a Family Team Meeting. At this meeting, several things happen:

  • Everyone will be encouraged to talk openly about child safety issues.
  • Parents, the family, and others will work together to make a plan to keep the
    child safe.
  • Parents get to choose who will attend these meetings, including friends and family they believe may be able to help them.

Family Team Meetings are voluntary. Parents may request them at any time if they feel it will help them find a way to keep their child safe.

 

What is a Safety Plan?

If your caseworker and supervisor think your child is not safe or might be harmed in the very near future, they will work with you to develop a Safety Plan. A Safety Plan is a written agreement between you and CPS that asks you to do certain things to keep your child safe. It’s a voluntary agreement but there may be consequences if you don’t do what you agree to do. The Safety Plan may be the result of a Family Team Meeting or it may be made at other times during the investigation.

 

What is a Parental Child Safety Placement?

A Parental Child Safety Placement is an agreement between the parents and a voluntary caregiver who has been approved by CPS. In these placements, parents agree to temporarily place their children with family or close friends because CPS has determined the children are not safe with their parents. CPS calls the family or close friends “voluntary caregivers.” Your caseworker must tell you why your child is not considered safe. If you and CPS develop a Parental Child Safety Placement, CPS will try to work with you to make the changes needed so your children can be safely returned to your home.

 

Will CPS take my child away?

CPS only removes children when it is necessary to protect them from abuse or neglect. This happens when there are no reasonable efforts that will keep children safe in their homes. With a court order, CPS can remove children when they are unsafe and the family is unable to make the changes needed to keep them safe. Depending on what is going on with the family, CPS may get a court order to remove children or it may remove children before getting a court order.

If CPS removes your child from your care without a court order, the court will review the case the next working day. In all cases, a judge will schedule a hearing within two weeks after CPS removes a child. When CPS removes children it will ask the parents to complete a Child Caregiver Resource Form. This form gives CPS the names of at least three people, including grandparents and other adult relatives, who might provide care, emotional support, or other support for the child while the parents receive services.

 

Can I contact my child after he is removed from my care?

Your caseworker and supervisor decide the type and amount of contact you may have with your child until the first court hearing. When possible, your caseworker will discuss a plan for you to have contact with your child at the time CPS removes your child. The judge that oversees the case may make more decisions about the contact you can have with your child or CPS may make changes later on. Discuss with your caseworker and supervisor any concerns you have about the plan for contact with your children.  If you still aren’t satisfied, let the judge know at the next court hearing. If you have a lawyer, we suggest you discuss these concerns with him or her.

 

Who will know what is in CPS records about me?

Because Texas law requires CPS to keep the report and investigation confidential from the public, CPS will only give information to the people who were investigated, the victim’s parents, law enforcement officials, courts, and county or district attorneys. There is a very limited exception for certain details about a child death investigation, which must be released to the public, and CPS will share information with providers and others as necessary for services to be provided. For example, a therapist will need to know details of the abuse and neglect to provide counseling. CPS will give relatives or other individuals with whom a child is placed any information necessary to ensure that they are prepared to meet the child’s needs. This may include information about any abuse or neglect. The law does not allow CPS to give you the name of the person who reported the child abuse or neglect.

 

How can I know what is in my CPS record?

You can get, at your expense, a redacted copy (with identities removed) of your case record with investigation information concerning you unless:

  • Releasing the information would jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation or the child’s safety.
  • Or court proceedings are pending and CPS’ lawyer determines you cannot have the information.

You can get the form to request a copy of your CPS record from your local CPS office or here. The cost of the copy is determined by DFPS, using established rates.

 

What can I do if I disagree with the conduct or findings of the CPS investigation?

Speak to your caseworker. An open discussion may settle the matter. If you can’t resolve your concerns with the caseworker, discuss them with the supervisor. If CPS thinks that you were responsible for child abuse or neglect and you disagree, you can request an administrative review of the investigation, unless a court has upheld the findings. CPS will give you instructions on how to request this review in the letter it sends when it closes the investigation. You may want to consult an attorney about this process, as it can be somewhat complicated.

You may also contact the DFPS Office of Consumer Affairs online or by calling 1-800-720-7777 (toll-free) or faxing (512) 339-5892 or e-mailing[email protected].   The Office of Consumer Affairs handles case-specific complaints about DFPS programs including Child Protective Services.

 

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Timothy Hutton

Divorce and Custody Lawyer at Hutton Law, PLLC
Mr. Hutton is a Divorce and Custody Lawyer based out of Round Rock, TX. His background is with child psychology at Arizona State University where he received a B.S. in 2006, and he continued this by working with the Children’s Right’s Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law where he received his J.D. in 2009. Throughout his practice, he has been a strong proponent of utilizing modern technology to improve his practice and the representation of his clients. He currently is the technology chair of CAFA of Travis County and is committed to improving and modernizing the practice of law in Texas.

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