Fighting False CPS Reports

If you were to be falsely accused of abuse or neglect of your child, how would you respond? This may have never been an issue in your life to this point, but it is one that I would like to bring to your attention. The reason is that if you do not have a plan in place in this situation then you will be at a significant disadvantage. Even if you consider the likelihood of something like this happening to you to be slim to none it still pays to have a plan in place. Thinking through the issues and then being able to walk yourself through the circumstances is crucial. 

On top of that, any person can make a report to Child Protective Services (CPS) involving a potential allegation of abuse or neglect of a child. These reports can come from a person who knows you and your family well. Or a person who is a stranger could make a report to CPS based on something he thinks he saw happen. In that case, you are dealing with a circumstance where your child could be removed from your home all because a false report was issued to CPS

In whatever circumstances you find yourself in, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are here to help you. We take seriously what it means to help parents in your position. It can be the gut punch of a lifetime to find out that a false report has been made against you to CPS. You cannot and should not rely upon CPS to uncover the truth themselves. Rather, in today’s blog post we are going to walk you through what steps you should take to protect yourself and your child when a false report is made to CPS.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse in Texas has to do with physical harm to a child or sexual molestation. Specifically, the Texas Family Code defines child abuse as a mental or emotional injury to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning. There are multiple areas of child abuse that you could be accused of. Physically hitting or striking a child or sexually molesting a child are two of the more common reports that come into CPS regarding the abuse of children. 

How can CPS receive a false allegation of abuse against you?

Mistakes happen in life. That is something that is not a surprise to learn. We all make mistakes from time to time, after all. However, what we need to be cognizant of is that the mistakes we make on a day-to-day basis don’t tend to be the type that has serious consequences. Forgetting to pack an apple with your child’s lunch that day may cause him to be hungrier at the end of the school day but is not the end of the world. 

However, when a false report is made against you to CPS that is a mistake that could have major implications within your family structure. Because CPS reports are anonymous some people may feel emboldened to make reports that they otherwise would not have. For instance, some well-meaning people simply misunderstand what the law says about child abuse. When a person makes a report to CPS regarding abuse that they have not witnessed then this is a recipe for a false report of abuse. Relying upon what someone told them may lead a person to contact CPS. However, without all the facts this can be a dangerous situation for you and your child. 

This could occur in a situation where, for example, a neighbor of yours sees you disciplining your child outside on your front lawn. She suspects that it may constitute abuse. So, she contacts CPS by phone and makes a report of abuse against you. CPS must investigate allegations of abuse or neglect. You may find yourself in a position where CPS comes out to your home to talk to you and your child about what happened that day. Not exactly the sort of situation that you want to find yourself in. 

It is especially not the sort of situation that you want to find yourself in when you consider that you were only preventing your son from running into the street without looking both ways. Your neighbor did not see the car speeding past the house immediately before. All she saw was you grabbing your son’s arm and yanking him back to your front yard. CPS may ultimately determine that the case does not have enough evidence to pursue. However, you should want to avoid involvement with CPS if possible.

How does CPS conduct investigations?

CPS will typically assign a caseworker or investigator to your family after a report of abuse or neglect comes into their office. This person will come to your house, identify themselves, and state the purpose of their presence at your home. You have some choices to make at this juncture. You could choose to simply not answer the door. The person would leave a business card on your front steps and attempt to contact you later. CPS would again try to meet you. If they are unable to do so then CPS could close out the investigation due to a lack of evidence pointing towards abuse or neglect of your child. 

On the other hand, you could choose to participate in the CPS investigation. You do not need to allow the CPS caseworker to enter your home. CPS may obtain a court order that allows them to enter your home, but this typically does not happen until later in an investigation. If you are dealing with an investigation for the first time, then there likely is no court order attached to the case yet. If it truly is a false report based on a misunderstanding, then participating in an investigation could provide CPS the information they need to complete their investigation with an unable to determine or rule out designation. 

CPS conducts investigations according to a specific timeline. Once an investigation is underway, an adjudication regarding your child’s permanent living arrangements must be made within one year. This means that if your child is removed from your home he or she must be returned by that time or have another conservatorship arrangement ruled on by a judge. That could mean CPS retaining primary custody or placing your child into foster care. 

Along the way during an investigation, CPS will make different services available to you and your family depending upon your circumstances and needs. You will need to provide updates to CPS as you begin to encounter these services. By the same token, if your child is removed from your home, they will need to provide you with updates on the health and well-being of your child. All of this is to say that you and CPS will both have a role to play during an investigation. Communication with one another is important. Working with an experienced CPS defense attorney from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is one way to help ensure that your child is given the best possible outcome in a CPS case. 

CPS will need to make recommendations to the court as far as what it believes to be in your child’s best interests. CPS may recommend that your child be returned home to you. Or CPS may temporarily place your child with a family member of yours while still working to get your child home to you at a later date. In extreme situations, CPS may recommend to a judge that your parental rights be terminated, and your child placed with a foster family. To say that there is a wide range of outcomes possible in a CPS case is an understatement. Preparation is key.

Is it out of the ordinary to be accused of child abuse?

When a parent in your position comes into a CPS case it can seem like the most random, terrible event of your life. This can be a parent’s experience even when he or she has committed an act of abuse or neglect. Many times, what a parent considers to be appropriate discipline or parenting falls under the definition of abuse or neglect. In your case, if you have been falsely accused of abuse or neglect of a child that means you need to develop a strategy aimed at overcoming this false allegation in hopes of moving on with your life as a parent. 

It is not uncommon to be accused of abuse or neglect of your child by someone. As we talked about earlier, the process of alleging child abuse or neglect is anonymous when it comes to making a report to CPS. It does not mean that if a purposefully false report is made to CPS you would not be able to hold that person accountable, however. On the other hand, if a person in good faith makes a report to CPS that turns out to be false that is not the same thing. 

Certain professionals- teachers, judges, attorneys, medical doctors- must report incidents of abuse or neglect to CPS. Sometimes people in these positions will think it better safe than sorry when it comes to reporting incidents of abuse or neglect that may not have taken place. If something looks suspicious, may as well report it and then let the agency sort out the details, right? Well, that comes back to harm families like yours who should not have been involved in the CPS investigation in the first place. 

Keep in mind, that these are otherwise trained (to varying degrees) and at least have experience in identifying the tell-tale signs of abuse or neglect. However, now consider that any can report child abuse or neglect to CPS. The public has even less experience with CPS investigations and in being able to identify abuse or neglect. Being in this position means that you need to be diligent about how you prepare your defense and how you present yourself as a parent both privately and publicly. The sad truth is that you never know who is watching you in a moment of weakness. 

When a child reports allegations of abuse to a teacher, principal, or other person then that educator will likely file a report. This is true even if the allegation is specious, uneven, or otherwise lacks veracity. These educators are not required to dig deep into the situation to determine whether the allegation has the marks of being accurate or truthful. Rather, if an educator like this hears of something that sounds like abuse, then he or she will report it or risk legal consequences for their failure to do so. 

Unfortunately, one of the scariest situations a parent can find themselves in is one where their child makes a false report of abuse or neglect against them. A teenager who understands the consequences may decide to file a false report against you to get back at you for a decision you made in parenting him. Or a co-parent may encourage your child to do so. This way the co-parent could gain an advantage regarding future child custody cases

There are several ways that CPS could incorrectly assert that you abused or neglected your child. Hopefully, the truth comes out of an investigation but that is something that you cannot be sure of. Rather, all that you can be sure of in a CPS case is that the process will be contested and requires you to be always ready. Having an experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan able to walk with you through a case can be just what you need to best protect your child and yourself from a false report of abuse.

What can you do if CPS contacts you regarding an allegation of abuse of your child?

When you are contacted initially by CPS that means you do not have time to come up with a plan any longer. Sure, you can take the information provided to you by CPS and then start to think of what you want to do but now there is an active CPS case against you. Think through what you are being told by CPS and see if any of it makes sense. If it sounds like nonsense, then ask questions about the information provided to them in the report. Ask for copies of any intake documents that they received. 

The CPS investigator may not tell you what initiated the report of abuse to their hotline. What you can do is start to think about what may have led to the investigation. Was there an incident in your mind that could have initiated a call to CPS? For most parents, there is usually a specific incident that will immediately come to mind. If you had to discipline your child in front of a group of people that may be what caused a report to come into CPS. 

When you talk to CPS your first inclination may be to get angry or upset with them. A false report of abuse or neglect may have led them to your doorstep. Simply seeing their face at your door is enough to cause many parents to lose control for a moment. Instead of speaking to the CPS investigator like someone performing a tough job as well as possible, you may look at him or her as someone with a personal vendetta against you. The bottom line is that you can act respectfully towards CPS even in these sorts of circumstances. 

When in doubt about how to proceed you should speak with an experienced family law attorney. Preferably, one who has served families like yours who have been wrongly accused of abuse or neglect of their child by CPS. You are going to face a range of decisions during an investigation like this and you may not know exactly how to proceed. It is better to take slightly more time to make the right decision than to make the wrong decision quickly. Spur-of-the-moment decisions as a parent who has never been through a CPS investigation are a recipe for disaster. 

Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us here on the blog for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys serve clients across the state of Texas and so do with a great deal of pride. We take the fight of our clients and make it our fight. We know what it takes to achieve the results that you need in a CPS defense situation. If you enjoyed this blog post, we invite you to join us again here tomorrow for another unique and informative post on Texas family law.

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. 

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