Child Safety First: When and how to call CPS in Texas

Picture this- you are out on your front lawn mowing the grass when you see your neighbor’s three-year-old son wandering on the front lawn unsupervised. This causes you to stop mowing and walk over to the child. You live on a busy street in your neighborhood. Cars use your street to cut through the neighborhood onto other destinations. You’ve worried about your kids playing in the street or chasing a ball and being hit by a car. Now you see that a similar situation could occur in the life of another child. Better not take any chances, you think. 

After you get over to the child, you ask him where his mom and dad are. The little boy stares back at you blankly, saying nothing. This isn’t out of the ordinary for a little child to not respond to the question of an adult he doesn’t know very well. You knock on the front door and your neighbor comes outside to talk. He doesn’t seem concerned that his son was just about to walk into the street unattended. He thanks you for letting me know about it, but about an hour later you see the boy again outside without his parent(s) around. Now you are starting to become more concerned. 

I think if we found ourselves in this position, we would feel conflicted about how to proceed. On the one hand, there is a strong preference for allowing parents to handle matters related to their children. The State of Texas presumes that parents act in the best interests of their children when making decisions on their behalf. Culturally, it can be seen as rude to insert ourselves into the lives of other families by offering an opinion or even injecting ourselves into circumstances that we find to be less than ideal for a child. After all, we don’t see everything that happens with that child or their family. 

The reality of the situation is that most of us may feel conflicted in a time like this. We have good intentions when it comes to wanting to help a small child. We also understand that there are consequences for sticking our necks out and trying to act as a force for good. What will the child’s parents think of us? Will they understand where we are coming from? What kind of reaction will they have? These are reasonable questions to ask and the kind that many of us would be asking ourselves if we were put into that scenario.

So how can we as private citizens proceed in a situation like the one, we laid out at the beginning of our blog post? Contacting CPS should not necessarily be seen as the best or most immediate choice when it comes to helping a family or a child when we perceive danger to him or her. However, if we feel like it is the only or best option then we should not hesitate to reach out to the agency. Today that is what we are going to be discussing in a way that we believe is fair and based on what would serve a child best. 

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan works alongside Texas parents going through CPS cases all the time. We understand the sort of stress that parents are under after CPS comes knocking on their door. We also know that sometimes CPS can seemingly overstep their bounds and not treat families with respect during an investigation. To that end, we think today’s blog post will help you be able to determine when calling CPS can benefit a child and when you are better served trying to discuss an issue directly with a parent or guardian. 

As always, if you have any questions about the material that we will be covering in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our experienced family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. Whether you are facing a situation involving CPS, divorce, or child custody- we are here to talk with no strings attached and at no cost to you. 

Understanding what child abuse and neglect are

From an everyday citizen’s perspective, it is a foreign concept to call the government when you think something strange is happening in the life of a child. We think about calling law enforcement if we see someone (including ourselves) in danger, but that instinct does not necessarily translate to children and CPS. The fact is we may see crimes or dangerous situations occurring in public much more often than we see anything suspicious involving a child. Police officers are more a fixture in our everyday lives than CPS caseworkers. These are just a few reasons why contacting CPS may be a foreign concept to many of us. 

Before anyone calls CPS about an incident involving a child, we should know at least a few basic pieces of information about what CPS is. CPS (Child Protective Services) is a part of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. This is a state agency whose mission is to protect vulnerable persons. Children are vulnerable in that they are physically and mentally unable to care for themselves in many situations. As a result, they rely upon their parents and guardians to look out for them. This is a basic facet of life but is one that I think bears mentioning, nonetheless. 

The agency has multiple ways that allow you or any other person to make anonymous reports regarding the well-being of a child. Your identity will be kept private. The person against whom a report is made will not have your identity disclosed to them in an investigation. Even if the person can obtain the initial transcripts of a call made to CPS or the caseworker’s notes your name would be redacted. A major concern that many people have regarding making a report to CPS is that their identity would be compromised, so this may be something for you to consider. 

Once a report is made to CPS, a division of the agency closest geographically to the location of the child would be alerted. This division would then assign employees to begin looking into the situation. A CPS caseworker would be assigned to investigate. An investigation usually involves him or her coming to your house to interview you, your spouse, or any other adult who lives in your household. The CPS caseworker will try to obtain other information- school records, doctor reports, etc.- that may be relevant to the circumstances, as well. 

When the CPS caseworker believes that he or she has enough information to decide whether abuse or neglect occurred, a report will be completed with the approval of a supervising CPS employee. The results of the CPS report will initially determine the outcome of how your family is impacted by the investigation. CPS will state whether abuse or neglect was likely to have occurred if they were unable to decide or if abuse or neglect was ruled out based on the available evidence. 

Along the way, CPS may determine that a child is unable to remain in the home safely. As a result, the agency may contact their attorneys to try and obtain a court order that allows the Department of Family and Protective Services to gain temporary custody of your child so that removal from your home can occur. CPS will work with you on this in most cases. You will be asked for names and contact information for relatives who may be able to house your child while an investigation is ongoing. 

In certain situations, CPS may even proceed to a legal case in front of a judge. This occurs in situations where your child is removed from the home and additional steps need to be taken to allow the child to be returned home. For instance, if there is a major issue in the home with drug or alcohol abuse then the parent of a child may need to attend counseling or rehabilitation before the child can be placed back home. This process can take time and would require the parent to periodically provide updates to the court on their progress. CPS also has responsibilities as far as making the court aware of the well-being of the child. 

After a CPS case, depending upon the recommendations of the agency, a judge would make rulings about whether the child will be allowed to return home. In some cases, this is possible. In others, CPS may need to remain the primary caretaker for the child if the parent is unable to do so themselves. In extreme circumstances, CPS may recommend against reunification with a parent and instead move to terminate the parent-child relationship. This is not a common situation but can occur when a parent shows no ability to care for the well-being of a child. 

It is with all of this as a backdrop that we can get into how you can proceed when it comes to reporting abuse or neglect of a child. There is a lot to think about in this area. There is even more to think about when you are the parent of a child who has had a report made to CPS on behalf. If you find yourself with more questions than answers- and your child’s well-being hangs in the balance, please reach out to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan for more information and to learn how we can offer you a helping hand in your time of need.

Reporting potential abuse or neglect to CPS

Recognizing potential abuse or neglect of a child is a crucial step to being able to make a report to CPS. Adults play an important role in the safety of children- even children with whom the adult has no formal relationship. Teachers are often the first line of defense against abuse or neglect given the amount of time that they spend with children. Look up internet articles on how unreported abuse and neglect of children skyrocketed during the pandemic A key reason for this is that in-person school was frowned upon in favor of virtual learning.

When child abuse and neglect occur in the home it can be difficult for us as adults outside that home to be able to make determinations and judgments about the incidents in question. Again, we do not want to jump to conclusions and cause harm to a family where that harm was unnecessary. We do, however, want to be able to keep an eye out for situations that could constitute abuse or neglect. This does not mean that we are going out to the grocery store, soccer fields or anywhere else looking for abuse or neglect of children. It does help to be observant and to be able to identify possible abuse/neglect when that is presented to you, however. 

When you believe that a child is in immediate danger then you should call 9-1-1. This should not be something that you hesitate on. Call 9-1-1 when you have a well-founded belief that a child is in harm’s way and that the harm could occur immediately. Allow the authorities to sort out the legalities of the situation. The outcome for the child’s parent should not be a factor in your decision to call law enforcement. Protect the child as best you can, first and foremost. 

What to do when a child makes an outcry to you

If you are in a position of trust with a child then do not be surprised if that child were to come to you with a complaint, otherwise known as an outcry, of abuse or neglect by a parent or other adult in their life. It can be disconcerting to be told of abuse or neglect. However, understand that you may be in the best position of any adult in that child’s life to do something about the situation. 

When a child comes up to you and starts talking about an incident it is best to allow the child to talk to you freely. Even though the child may be young he or she should be able to express themselves in their own words. What you are trying to avoid is a situation where the child did experience abuse or neglect but is then influenced by your words one way or another. Their story and recollection may change because of how you unknowingly influenced him or her. That could impact how effective a CPS can be in their circumstances. 

Making a report to CPS is not difficult as far as the information that needs to be provided. Basic information like the child’s name (if known), date of birth, address, and the names of the child’s caretakers would be helpful to provide to CPS. There are online reporting tools available to you and a hotline that you can call to make reports to CPS. 

As we mentioned earlier in today’s blog post, CPS will make every effort to keep your identity confidential. However, keep in mind that your identity may need to be made known to law enforcement if any other information is needed to assist with a criminal investigation into the matter. 

When you make a report of abuse or neglect of a child to CPS then you should do your best to be as calm as possible. When a child is the one who makes you aware of possible abuse or neglect it is best to believe the child. Children can make mistakes or misinterpret situations. However, believing the child allows you to help the child put the situation in front of the proper authorities. Those people will have a better vantage point than you will as far as deciding about potential acts of abuse or neglect. Again, allow the child to speak to you as freely as possible. You can ask questions, show concern, and generally allow the child to provide as much detail as possible so that you can know more about what occurred. From there, you can move forward to report to CPS what you were told or what you observed. 

Being too aggressive with the child as far as demanding more information or making him feel uncomfortable is not a good way to go about obtaining information. The child will already be uncomfortable, and your actions may push the child to be hesitant about sharing what happened to him. Do not make promises to the child that you cannot keep. Once you learn the identity of the person who committed the abuse or neglect you should provide that to law enforcement, CPS, or both. However, do not confront the person yourself. 

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 how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody lawsuit. 

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