When it comes to a CPS case it pays to understand where your opponent is coming from. Whether the CPS caseworker is an opponent in the strict definition of the word I cannot say. However, for your CPS case, it will certainly feel like a CPS caseworker has goals that are not in line with yours. Your goal is simple- to end the CPS case and have your child returned home. The goal of CPS is to keep your child “safe” and to investigate allegations made against you or another adult in your household regarding abuse and neglect.
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan has written many blog posts providing our community with an overview of the CPS case process. If you want to know how the case will be managed those blog posts are important. Here today, we will also provide you with an overview, but we are going to do so from the perspective of the CPS caseworker. Why is this important? For one, the caseworker will not always fully explain themselves as far as how and why he or she is doing what they are doing. If you don’t ask questions, they will tell you the most minimal amount of information necessary.
Why is this? CPS caseworkers are (to be fair) being pulled in multiple different directions all at once in the context of a CPS case. Your children, depending on their age, may not be the easiest person in the world to work with. You are likely not at your best in terms of your kindness and patience- as any parent in your position would be. The law requires them to perform delicate and difficult work. These caseworkers are overworked and have supervisors with unrealistic expectations of them in many cases. In short, these folks may be just like you in terms of having difficult and lofty expectations of their job performance.
There is real life, human realities that arise in a CPS case. You are not a happy camper that an anonymous person made a report to CPS about abuse or neglect of your child. Or your child has been abused or neglected and you are not sure how that will impact you as a parent. CPS must give you a minimal amount of information about what is going on in the case. However. CPS has legal requirements as far as moving the case along and making sure that statutory deadlines are maintained. Unfortunately, many CPS caseworkers are more attuned to the needs of those statutory deadlines than they are to your needs as a parent.
What is the job of a CPS caseworker?
Briefly, the caseworker has a job to do when he or she knocks on your front door for the first time. CPS is trying to determine if abuse or neglect of your child has occurred. Their agency has received an anonymous report that abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to have occurred. The caseworker is the eyes and ears of the agency. Their chief job is to collect information, analyze it, and make recommendations and determinations about any harm that has occurred relating to your child.
If the caseworker believes that harm has occurred and that it is likely to occur again in an immediate sense, then an emergency removal of your child from your home can occur. This is usually done before a court order is obtained. A CPS caseworker will approach a case in most instances like any other person. Concerns about the well-being of your child as well as your ability to follow a safety plan are motivating factors for the caseworker to ensure a thorough investigation is completed.
How would a CPS caseworker determine that neglect has occurred?
To simplify things a great deal, when a CPS caseworker initiates an investigation into your life and family, he or she is looking for evidence of either abuse or neglect. Are the basic needs of your child being met? This is question number one when a CPS caseworker becomes involved in your family’s life. The next question is whether any lack of care on your part has led to a substantial risk of harm to your child.
Whereas abuse findings can be based on one incident, neglect is usually a consideration over a longer period. For example, let’s say that you had a bad headache and went to lie down on the couch. You had asked your eleven-year-old to wake you up so that you could prepare dinner for her. However, she forgot to wake you up. At the same time, she ended up hurting herself by trying to make dinner in the kitchen. When you took her to the hospital for stitches a doctor asked her how she hurt herself. The doctor must report potential incidents of abuse or neglect to CPS and that was how a report was made to the agency.
Another way that a CPS caseworker can determine that neglect has occurred is to look at the sort of medical care that your child receives. If your child has had a diaper rash for weeks and you have not attempted to gain a prescription cream to remedy that rash, then this may be an example of neglect. For a condition to progress to this point it makes sense that you would have had to have ignored the situation for an extended period.
One example of neglect that has nothing to do with how your child looks, dresses, or eats is concerning your home. Sometimes issues pop up in your home that need to be fixed. If you rent an apartment or home that is hopefully something that your landlord can fix for you. However, if you own your own home then this is something that you will need to fix yourself. Not fixing the staircase or remedying a condition in your backyard that has the potential to hurt your child is a possible example of neglect.
How would a CPS caseworker determine that abuse has occurred?
The main question that CPS caseworkers must ask themselves regarding physical abuse is whether the injury reported to CPS could have been caused by another means, other than abuse. This calls into question the caseworker’s ability to make determinations like this as a non-medical person. To make this decision the caseworker would need to gather information as best as possible. As your child’s parent, you will be one of the main sources of information along with teachers, neighbors, and possibly medical personnel.
First, the caseworker will ask you questions about how the injury to your child occurred. You need to be truthful about what you know or what you do not know. It may not occur to you at that moment but what you tell the caseworker will go into a report that he or she completes. That report could end up as evidence in a legal case brought before a judge. Even if the truth is difficult or could end up making you look bad in some way it is best to tell the truth. Or consider calling the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to speak to us about the situation that you are going through before speaking to CPS about anything you are unsure of.
One of the main elements of caring for an injury to a child is whether you sought care for him or her. Delays in medical care can impact the severity of the injury as well as whether the injury heals properly. Taking your child to an emergency room, urgent care, or even to the child’s pediatrician would be evidence of you having sought proper medical care. CPS caseworkers are trained to look out for delays in medical care as possibly evidence of wrongdoing by a parent.
How a CPS Caseworker determines risk in your household
The next step in the CPS case process is for the CPS caseworker to begin to evaluate your situation for risk to your child on an ongoing basis. Let’s assume that something has happened to your child- whether it be an incident of abuse or ongoing neglect. Now that the CPS caseworker has determined that something has occurred, he or she will need to determine what risk factors exist as far as ongoing harm to your child. It could be that this was a “one-off” where something strange happened, and your child was left to fend for themselves for an afternoon while you were away or were sleeping off a cold.
However, in other circumstances, CPS would need to seriously consider whether there is a high likelihood that these acts of abuse or neglect may occur again. The home environment- who lives there, how seriously you are taking the investigation, and what the home itself is like- will be considered. The strengths of your family will be considered. Does the CPS caseworker have a strong belief in your family’s ability to rally around each other and keep your child safe? Or does the CPS caseworker get the impression that your child may continue to be in harm’s way?
How is a risk assessment performed in a situation involving substance abuse?
Unfortunately, substance abuse ends up being an all-too-common issue in CPS cases. If this is a relevant factor in your family then you will have some considerations to make as far as how you are going to handle this subject, regardless of the CPS case. The extent to which you or a family member have abused a substance, the impact it has had on your parenting, and the home environment will all matter a great deal to the CPS caseworker during an evaluation.
How committed are you to recovering from your addiction or substance abuse disorder? This is a main factor that the CPS caseworker will look at when determining the level of risk in your home to your child. Are you willing or able to change your behavior? Do you strongly desire to improve your health and free yourself from an addiction? Ask yourself this honestly and then determine how you can show this to the caseworker. If you have previously been able to maintain sobriety then this should be shared with a caseworker. Evidence of attending AA classes or other counseling may also be helpful.
Finally, what sort of support system you have in your life to help you deal with a substance abuse disorder will be key to helping the CPS caseworker figure out how to assess your situation. If you have family and friends who are actively supporting, you throughout this road towards sobriety then that will certainly be a point in your favor. People who can help to keep you accountable to our goals and will keep you away from drugs and alcohol are what the caseworker will be looking for.
Determining the safety of your child in your home
Once CPS has conducted its initial investigation, determined the risk of harm in your home to your child, and then looked at whether drug use is an issue, the caseworker will be able to assess the overall safety level of your child in your home. This is a more complex situation than may first meet the eye. While your child may be safe now there may also be a substantial risk of harm to your child in the future. This determination is not as simple as looking at present factors and then basing a decision solely on those issues.
At this point, a CPS caseworker would have already made an initial safety decision meaning that the worker would have already decided whether to pursue for an immediate removal of your child from your home. In some situations, your child may not have been able to remain safe in the house. That could have led to CPS removing him or her, at least temporarily. If your child has remained in your home throughout the investigation, then it is possible that he or she will not be removed at all. Again, this depends on the level of risk in the home to your child’s safety as well as the degree to which you can take preventative measures and make changes in your own life to facilitate that goal.
Developing a safety plan
Along with making all these decisions within the investigation, a CPS caseworker will also need to help you develop a safety plan for your case. A safety plan is designed to assist you and your family in controlling any risks of harm to your child in the future. If an investigation is still ongoing in your case, then that should be a sign that there are changes needed in your household. As such, the safety plan will also help you and the caseworker oversee necessary changes in your household.
A safety plan seeks to make an immediate change relating to factors associated with risk in your household. If a person in your household poses an objective threat to the safety of your child, then that person will be asked to leave the home within the safety plan. If a defect needs to be fixed in the home, then there will need to be concrete steps taken within the plan to address that defect and how it is going to be fixed.
Keep in mind that the CPS caseworker will need to be able to do everything possible to help keep your family together during this time. This goal will also have to be balanced against maintaining the safety of your child. There may be in-home services made available by CPS to help you keep and maintain your house or to show you strategies for handling housework. Again, if CPS does not believe that your child can be kept safely in your home then the agency may ask a judge for a court order which allows them to move forward with a removal.
This is also the point in a case where CPS will determine whether there are emergency needs in your household for things like food, clothing, medical care, or counseling. CPS will try to offer you services based on the needs of your family.
These are some of the considerations that a CPS caseworker will examine during an investigation into your family. There is a lot to keep track of and you as a parent may feel overwhelmed at this time. However, you can rally around your support system, place a strong focus on the well-being of your child, and evaluate yourself honestly to see where you may need to make changes. The guidance and assistance of an experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can also help a great deal during a CPS investigation.
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 case.