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How does CPS decide whether to open a case?

In a normal circumstance, Child Protective Services will remove your child from your home only when it becomes necessary. While they will certainly do so if they believe that your child is at immediate risk of danger, the flip side of that is that CPS must care for your child in terms of housing, day-to-day care, and everything else in between. For that reason, CPS will most typically remove your child only when they feel like they have no other choice. Do not go into your CPS case assuming that your child is going to be removed from your house for no good reason. Rather, the removal process can become something that exists as an option but is not likely to occur for most people who are reading today's blog post.

As I mentioned a moment ago, it would need to become clear to CPS that there is a present danger of harm that could befall your child if he or she were to remain at your family home. This could be due to a dangerous condition in the home, a person who poses a risk of harm to your child in the home, or a past incident of abuse or neglect that appears likely to continue unless he or she were removed. If a dangerous condition cannot otherwise be remedied quickly by you or a family member, then removal becomes much more likely.

In some circumstances, your child may also be removed from your home if it becomes clear that you are incapable of providing the level of care necessary to keep your children safe. This is not saying that you are a bad parent or otherwise incapable of caring for your child. However, the removal of your child under these circumstances would be an acknowledgment that something in the parent-child relationship between you and your children needs to be fixed. Very Simply put, you may be in over your head when it comes to parenting your child and steps will be taken between you and CPS to bring you up to speed on how to parent your child better. Parenting courses are a great resource that CPS can provide to you at no cost where you can develop the skills and strategies that can help you regain Custody of your children.

Otherwise, if CPS believes that there is nothing remedial that they can do to protect your children from harm that does not involve their removal from the house then this is what they will likely do. This means that if CPS has tried other steps with you but do not involve removing your child from the home, but you have not been able to show them that your child can be kept out of harm's way then as a last resort CPS will remove your child from the home. Their removal of your child from the home is not necessarily going to be a permanent thing, but it can be unless you were able to cooperate in meeting the guidelines outlined in your safety or parenting plan.

What will CPS be looking for in their initial investigation?

to be sure, when CPS contacts you about an allegation made regarding abuse or neglect of your child then you have every right to be upset and nervous about what is to happen next. If I went out, you could feel helpless and like there is nothing you can do to prevent what may or may not happen in this investigation. Additionally, you may also be in the dark about what their investigation even relates to. In that case, understanding what CPS will be looking for in their initial investigation can help you to determine whether it is likely that a CPS case will be opened regarding your child.

First, the bottom line is that CPS will be seeking out information to confirm whether your child is safe. The agency's most important objective is to place your child in a situation where he or she is at the lowest risk of abuse or neglect possible. This could mean allowing your child to remain in your home. However, if it becomes abundantly clear that you are not capable of providing your child with that sort of safe environment then the agency will not hesitate to remove your child. What does it mean to keep your child safe from harm? This is a subjective standard, but we will attempt to answer that question here.

CPS is not going to be attempting to look into their crystal ball and guess the future as far as the safety of your child. Nobody can do that. However, what the agency can do is look at your case in an immediate sense and determine whether there are any risks of serious harm to your child staring everyone in the face. Is your house a safe place to raise your child? What sort of hazards exists in the home, if any that could be harmful to your child? These will be the sort of concerns that CPR to have regarding your child in possibly opening a case in removing your child from the home.

If CPS determines that there is an immediate risk of harm for your child by remaining in your home then the CPS caseworker will begin to correspond with their supervisor to devise a plan to work with you to remedy that circumstance or to take immediate action and remove your child from the home. The removal of your child from your home could only be accomplished after a court order is obtained. This means that a lawyer for CPS would need to file paperwork with the court and go before a judge to present an affidavit spelling out the circumstances. CPS caseworker may even need to attend the hearing to testify to that judge on an emergency basis. You would have an opportunity to go before the same judge to have your child returned home to you but not necessarily before your child is removed from the home.

Next, CPS would need to determine whether abuse or neglect has occurred to your child. This can be a difficult question for a CPS caseworker to answer. He or she is not a police officer nor is he or she an attorney. The standard that the CPS caseworker must use is whether there is a preponderance of the evidence in existence that can show that your child was abused or neglected. A preponderance of the evidence is not like a beyond a reasonable doubt standard that we may see in a criminal case. That is an extremely high burden for the state to meet when attempting to convict a person of a crime. Rather, a preponderance of the evidence is the same legal standard that is used in most civil cases in the United States. A preponderance of the evidence simply means more likely than not to have occurred.

Even if a CPS caseworker believes that abuse or neglect only occurred a little bit more than they believe that it did not occur that is all the agency will need two possibly remove your child from the home. At that point, almost certainly a case will be opened regarding the well-being of your child. On the other hand, if the agency does not believe that it has a preponderance of the evidence to prove that abuse or neglect has occurred then the next step for the CPS caseworker will be to determine whether or not a finding of ruled out or unable to determine is more appropriate. Ruled out speaks more of having sufficient evidence and being certain to a great extent that abuse or neglect did not occur. Unable to determine speaks more of having insufficient evidence or otherwise is limited in being able to collect enough information to make a decision one way or the other.

Here is what happens if CPS determines that there is a preponderance of the evidence that abuse or neglect occurred regarding your child. Even then, CPS must take the next step and determine what kind of abuse or neglect occurred and the extent of the damage so to speak. Once the extent of the issue has been determined CPS will want to investigate who committed the abuse or neglect. Was it you? A spouse? A significant other? Or another person living in your household? Who the person is, their relationship to your child, and the need for that person to be in the same household as your child will go to determine whether or not CPS makes a recommendation to have your child removed from your home. If your child can be kept in the home and have another adult removed from the home, then that will be most preferable.

Once these decisions are made and information is uncovered CPS can then try to make the difficult determination of whether they believe your child is at risk of any future harm due to abuse or neglect. As we mentioned a moment ago, it is extremely difficult for CPS to try to estimate whether or not abuse or neglect is likely to occur in the future for your child. This is such a fact-specific situation for them that undoubtedly the agency could make a mistake about this question relatively easily. However, the best they can do is easy information on the ground that they see currently and make a decision based on this.

If there is a clear-cut situation where you can take action to remove a dangerous condition from the home that would dramatically reduce the likelihood of future harm to your child this is an ideal situation for your failure to be in if they have to be involved with CPS at all. For many families, this could mean making a simple improvement to the house or fixing a dangerous condition. That loose floorboard that resulted in a broken arm to your child or your boyfriend finishing the installation for his gun safe it can take then otherwise dangerous condition and make it safe. In that circumstance, your child is very likely to be able to remain in the house so long as the condition is remedied.

On the other hand, there may be conditions in the house that are not so easily quickly fixed. I am thinking about situations involving you and your significant other or even your child and you. Fractured relationships are not easily healed, unfortunately. These relationships take time to fix, and CPS may determine that it is in your child's best interests to not be at home while you and your family members attempt to get on the same page from a relationship standpoint. As such, removing your child from your home may be seen as the best of a lot of not-so-great options for your family to consider.

Making services available to your family

It may become clear to you and CPS that additional help is needed to provide you all with the level of training and care needed to fix whatever circumstance you are facing. The CPS caseworker will investigate your circumstances in an attempt to determine mother or not classes, intervention or other assistance may be able to help you and your family maintain a safe household and otherwise position yourselves to not have CPS intervene in your lives in the future. The sort of help that could be provided by CPS can take on multiple forms, but the bottom line is that the state has resources that otherwise may not be available to you where you can improve the quality of your home and parenting skills. This may be your best bet when it comes to moving any risk of CPS needing to intervene in your lives in the future.

Determining safety is an ongoing process for CPS

As we mentioned a moment ago, the number one job of CPS is to try and keep your child safe. Throughout the life of your case, CPS will continue to adjust its views of your family in light of the changes that you are making in your household. An unsafe household in January may not be an unsafe household in March or April. A motivated family like yours can oftentimes take dramatic steps to improve the quality of life for those in the home and to remedy conditions that might be seen as dangerous to children.

This does not mean that your definition of safe will always be the same as the agencies. when CPS talks about keeping your children safe they mean that any immediate threats to your child's safety will be eliminated or removed. We have talked in detail about what kind of threats these might be. Next, CPS will consider what sort of ongoing threats exist in your household and what your ability as a parent is to manage those threats. For example, if you have a pool in your backyard then that is technically a safety threat to your child. However, millions of Americans live with a pool in their backyard with no harm done to their children. It is up to you to be able to show CPS that you have the wherewithal to keep your children safe and to keep a condition like a pool or anything else for that matter from being a potential source of harm to your children.

Much like attempting to determine future risk of harm to your child CPS must also work to determine the extent to which it is likely for any dangerous condition to develop in your household. This can become extremely difficult to do but certainly, CPS can determine whether you have a history with the agency and what kind of circumstances lead them to be in contact with you in the first place. From there, CPS can work with you and your family to ensure the safety of all persons in the home, especially your children. The more involved you are with your case the better positioned you will be to ensure that CPS does not have a long-lasting presence in your home and that your child does not get removed.

Above all else, when CPS becomes involved in your life, they want to know that you are going to take an active and involved role in the case. While I would never say that every CPS case has merit or that you need to participate in a CPS case when they come knocking on your door the fact is that in many cases you would be best served to participate in the CPS case for the well-being of your children in your relationship with them. I believe that working with an experienced CPS defense attorney can be a great first step for you to reclaim the time with your children and position yourself well to close your case out as quickly as possible.

Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of divorce for child custody cases.

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