Child Protective Services in Texas is part of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). This state agency’s objective is to protect the children that live in our state after receiving reports of abuse or neglect of a child. This sounds straightforward enough but does not do much to tell you the extent to which CPS can play a role in your life nor how an investigation begins or ends. You face a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to a CPS case, and I would like to spend today’s blog making sure that you have a good idea of how a CPS case works.
Abuse and neglect are defined and explained.
CPS takes anonymous reports from people in the community about possible incidents of abuse or neglect experienced by a child. These incidents are detailed in documents known within CPS as “incident reports.” These incident reports are assigned to caseworkers in the geographic area nearest to the children involved. These caseworkers will administer and investigate the allegations of abuse or neglect. From there, a determination will be made as to whether or not there is sufficient evidence to open a full investigation.
Abuse means that a child has suffered a physical, emotional, sexual, or mental injury of some sort due to the actions or inaction of an adult that owes a duty of care to that child. This means that if you are a parent and you allowed your child to be abused, you can be found to have committed an act of abuse as well.
If you are a drug addict, abuse alcohol, or have engaged in sexual conduct with your child, then you could be found to have engaged in abuse of your child. Most CPS cases do not involve abuse but instead neglect. However, if CPS determines that there is enough evidence to substantiate an allegation of child abuse, you will be investigated thoroughly.
Neglect means that your child has been placed at risk of foreseeable harm (physical, mental, emotional, or sexual) that you took either no or insufficient action to prevent. A CPS caseworker will have received many neglect allegations against parents. These range from keeping a dirty home that smells from the outside to leaving a child home alone while you go to work. If your child is sick and you fail to take them to the doctor, this too can be construed as neglect.
I have seen parents be accused of neglecting a child when they leave their child with life who is not fit to care for a child. Parents are likewise not supposed to put a child into or fail to remove a child from a situation where their age prevents them from keeping themselves safe from harm. Finally, using the dirty home example from earlier in this blog post, if you fail to keep your home clean and it is determined that the house itself posed a health risk to your child, you can be found to have committed neglect.
CPS reporting- how exactly does this happen?
When CPS contacts you initially, you will likely be told that a report has come in involving abuse or neglect of a child. As we alluded to, earlier this means that a phone call was placed on their anonymous hotline where people can make reports about possible abuse or neglect of a child. No matter the source or the level of detail in the allegation, CPS must investigate all allegations of abuse or neglect made against a child.
If CPS finds an immediate risk of harm to your child based on the report made to them, they will come to investigate the allegation within 24 hours of having received a phone call. On the other hand, claims of abuse or neglect that do not pose a threat of immediate harm to a child will be investigated within 72 hours of receiving a phone call.
The people that report instances of abuse or neglect are kept anonymous. You will likely never know the personal identity whose phone call initiated your investigation. The state wants to encourage people to feel comfortable to make a report of alleged abuse or neglect.
CPS will attempt to figure out whether your child is safe in their initial investigation
When an allegation of abuse or neglect is made against you, the first thing that CPS will look for in you, your spouse, and your home is whether or not the child would be safe if allowed to remain inside the house. This either means that there are no threats to your child in the home or that you can take steps to ensure that any danger will not harm your child.
As made by a CPS investigation, this decision is subjective and is subject to the interpretation of your CPS caseworker. You may be asking yourself: how safe is safe enough?
If any, what condition in your home offers an immediate risk of harm to your child?
If the condition that harmed your child is no longer available for future risk of harm, then your child is not facing an immediate threat of damage. The type of harm is also relevant. If the harm that could befall your child is a severe or life-threatening injury, then it is likely to find that neglect has occurred. If not, then a neglect finding will be much more unlikely.
Injuries that were not caused by accident, like the discipline that went too far and became physical, would be an example of a risk of severe and immediate harm to a child that CPS would evaluate. Commonly cases that involve drug use in the home lead to CPS determining that neglect or abuse has occurred.
Finally, CPS will evaluate whether or not you have shown the ability or willingness to offer protection to your child from any risk of serious harm that could befall them. This does not mean that you have to eliminate risk in your child’s life. No parent can do this. However, different parents can show different levels of ability to put up safeguards to protect their children from harm that can be foreseen.
It is a fundamental part of parenting that you should know your child and their particular needs. This can mean something as basic as providing clothing, food, and shelter according to your abilities. Taken a bit further, you are expected to keep people that can potentially bring harm to your child out of their life. If you have friends involved in illegal activities, for example, getting this person into your home is probably not a great idea.
Finally, if you are not in a position to provide for your child’s basic needs on your own, you must show the willingness to seek help from people in your community. It would help if you indicated that you take the threats seriously out there to your child and that you are taking the proper steps and precautions to ensure they are given every opportunity in the world to remain safe.
Removing a child from your home
CPS will not permanently remove your child if it is found that there is an unsafe condition in your home. If you can work on an agreed family safety plan or even place your child in the care of a relative outside your home, this can satisfy CPS in many instances. However, if one of these options does not work out, your child can be removed from your home.
CPS can and will remove your child from your home under certain conditions
In tomorrow’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, we will discuss additional pieces of information about an investigation and how your life can become impacted as a result.
In the meantime, if you have any questions for one of our licensed family law attorneys, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week. If you find yourself with more questions than answers about a subject as intimidating as a CPS case, do try to solve your problems alone.