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Understanding the Role of CPS in Texas child custody cases

Child Protective Services (CPS) is a subdivision of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The mission of this department is to protect the vulnerable populations of Texas, specifically children and the elderly. To further this mission, CPS is empowered to receive anonymous reports from anyone who believes that he or she has witnessed an incident involving abuse or neglect of a child. These persons can report such instances to CPS which leads to CPS investigating the alleged victim, perpetrator(s), and family of the victim. Ultimately, CPS tries to determine whether abuse or neglect of a child occurred by conducting interviews, reviewing documentary evidence, and compiling evidence of other types, as well.

All of this sounds rather academic until you are put in a position where it is your child who is the subject of an investigation. If you are alleged to be a perpetrator of that abuse or neglect, then the case takes on another dimension and the consequences become even more tangible. Having your child removed from your home is one potential outcome as is the possibility that you may have to attend multiple hearings in court. This process is one where you want to learn as much as possible beforehand so that you are as well prepared as possible to handle whatever comes your way in the case.

In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to cover how best to approach the subject of a CPS investigation in conjunction with a Texas child custody case. A custody case can be tough as it is but add to that the complexities and stress associated with a CPS case, and you have a whole new level of difficulty when approaching this situation. For that reason, if you would like to talk with an experienced family law attorney about your case please do not hesitate to call our reach out to our office for a free-of-charge consultation.

What happens when CPS opens an investigation into your family?

When CPS learns of an issue involving potential abuse or neglect of your child, the agency will send a caseworker out to visit with you and possibly with your child. Depending upon the age or maturity level of your child an interview of him or her may not be practical. However, this CPS investigator will want to ask you questions about the information which was included in the CPS report detailing the abuse and neglect of your child. Many times, this involves coming out to your home to see if you are willing to share any information with him or her about the contents of their report. An inspection of your home may be requested as well as a list of people who regularly meet your child. The length of the CPS investigation will depend on the nature of the abuse or neglect alleged as well as your cooperation with the caseworker.

That CPS will work to interview your child and any other potential or alleged victim comes as a part of the investigation. Additionally, you, any other co-parent, or any adult who is listed as an alleged perpetrator in the CPS report will be requested to have an interview conducted. While these interviews are taking place, the agency will contact doctor's offices, schools, and any other source which may have documentary evidence relevant to this investigation. A thorough risk assessment will also be completed which will help the agency decide whether a safety plan may need to be assigned to your family and child.

Family Based Safety Services can be implemented into your life and that of your child to avoid the possibility of your child being removed from your care. Examples of other arrangements which may be in play would be to have your child placed voluntarily with a family member or other person whom you trust with the well-being of your child. This placement would usually be temporary and would last for only as long as the safety issues apparent in the CPS report can be resolved or rectified. It is also possible that CPS may not ask to remove your child from your home and could instead work with you on a safety plan which allows your child to remain in your home throughout their investigation.

An in-person meeting with you and every other person who is receiving services (if any) will be scheduled. The goals of the services as well as concerns highlighted in their investigation can be discussed in a family team meeting. This meeting allows all relevant parties to come together to discuss the safety plan as well as the investigation itself. The safety plan will be ongoing unless you show an inability to complete the process. In that case, CPS may have to re-evaluate the situation for possible removal of your child. This can be done via emergency action on behalf of CPS or by first obtaining an order from a court that grants the agency temporary conservatorship rights over your child.

Keep in mind that any service plan agreed to between you and CPS would be voluntary. The plan will tell you why CPS has become involved in your life and that of your child and what steps must be completed to have the CPS investigation end. You will have an opportunity to review and sign the safety plan which can result in your child being able to remain in your home while the investigation continues. If you refuse to participate in this process, CPS may being the process of removing your child from your home.

When CPS attempts to interview your child

In most cases, CPS will attempt to interview your child as a means of collecting evidence relevant to their investigation and the report made to CPS initially. These interviews can take place at school or otherwise outside of your home without you being present. The interview will be recording the interview and can be used later in the investigation for a range of purposes. In a child custody case, there may be conservatorship changes that are made because of a CPS interview. Modifications to existing child custody orders may be requested based on the child custody orders.

When CPS attempts to interview you

You may be asked to sit down for an interview with CPS, as well, if you are accused of committing an act of abuse or neglect toward your child. You do not have to participate in the interview and any information collected in the interview should you choose to submit to one can be used in the investigation later. Additionally, your family members may be asked to submit an interview request so that as much information and evidence can be collected as possible. Information may come about because of obtaining documents either from you or directly from a specific source like a hospital or doctor’s office. To receive evidence directly from a medical source or school, CPS will need to have you sign a release. Keep in mind that if you sign a release, you can revoke that release at any point by communicating this desire to CPS directly.

Home visits

One of the more significant aspects of a CPS case involves a home visit and inspection. The purpose of conducting a home visit is to ensure that your child's living conditions are safe and appropriate for a child. This includes making sure there is sufficient food and water in the home and that the house does not have any structural issues which are dangerous for your child. The people in your home can also potentially present a risk of harm to your child and as a result may be the subject of their investigation, as well.

Once you are at this stage of a child custody turned CPS case it is a wise decision to consider hiring an attorney. There are now so many moving pieces to your case it is enough to make your head spin. Consider, for a moment, how much time you have on your hands to offer a proper defense to allegations of abuse or neglect against your child. Do you know how to organize a defense, collect evidence, structure your time, and hold CPS accountable? Do you have work and family responsibilities beyond this CPS case? What about the initial child custody case that was filed before you even became involved with CPS? How is that case going? If answering any of these questions has made you feel uncertain then you are not alone. Most people in your shoes would need help were they blind-sided by a CPS investigation.

This is where the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can step in to provide you with assistance. Did you know that our attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations online, over the phone, and at all of our Houston area office locations? It's no secret that we take a great deal of pride in being able to serve our community and that means providing you with knowledge and information about the family law case that you are facing. A free-of-charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys is the best way for you to develop a report with an attorney who you may consider hiring in the future to help you and your family.

What happens at the end of a CPS case?

Here is where all the information collected by CPS will make a difference in your case. CPS must make a finding as to the allegations of abuse or neglect of your child. If the CPS caseworker determined that the abuse or neglect did occur, then a Reason to Believe finding will be made. This means that based on the available evidence- written, oral, and documentary- it appears that more likely than not that abuse, or neglect of your child did occur.

An Unable to Determine finding will result if the caseworker believes that abuse or neglect of your child did not occur but that there is not enough evidence to support a Reason to Believe finding. This finding shows you the amount of latitude given to a CPS caseworker to be able to make decisions about the case involving you and your child. Consider that the CPS caseworker can basically “go with their gut” on this one and say that abuse or neglect of your child took place even when there is not sufficient evidence to issue a finding to that extent. In some cases, an unable to determine finding makes it more likely that your case may be reopened in the future if there is sufficient evidence that is discovered or becomes available to CPS.

What you want to see happen in your CPS case is a ruled-out finding. A ruled-out finding means that the caseworker who was assigned to your case has determined that the abuse or neglect reported to the agency did not occur. In some instances, a ruled-out finding could be made if abuse or neglect did occur in the opinion of the caseworker but that the person who committed the acts of abuse or neglect is younger than 9 years old.

Two other findings can result in a CPS case that we will briefly touch on. The first is unable to complete. If, for some reason, the CPS caseworker is unable to complete their investigation then an unable-to-complete finding will be made. There is a range of situations that could lead to an unable to complete the finding being made. Finally, if CPS becomes aware of additional information during an investigation that points them in the direction of believing that an additional investigation is not warranted then the case will be closed administratively.

What does a CPS investigation mean to your child custody case?

Now that we have been able to walk through what it means to go through a CPS case during your child custody case let's tie everything together and determine what the net impact of the CPS case could be on your child custody proceedings. For one, a CPS case being opened during your child custody case means that inevitably your child custody case will be delayed. A family court judge will not sign off on any conservatorship, visitation, or possession orders until a conclusion can be reached in your CPS case. This means that the faster your CPS case can conclude the faster your child custody case can conclude, as well.

Many times, a parent who becomes involved in a CPS case during a divorce or child custody case will believe that the other parent filed a false report to CPS to sink their goals and aspirations regarding custody and other subjects. This does happen from time to time but there are consequences to your co-parent behaving in this manner. It is against the law to file a false police report against anyone. Not to mention that if a false report is made against you during a child custody case there can be grave consequences as far as the case is concerned.

What you can do during a child custody case is to stay calm and work with your attorney if you become involved in a CPS report. There is a chance that being named in a report from CPS is just a misunderstanding which can be clarified over time. However, if you are named as an alleged perpetrator of abuse or neglect in a CPS report and ultimately a reason to believe a finding is made in your case this could have an extremely negative impact on your child custody case. Even if you can complete successfully all the required remedial coursework and counseling prescribed for you in the CPS case that does not mean that this will be a factor that would be overlooked by your opposing party or a family court judge. If there was ever an issue regarding abuse or neglect when it comes to you as a parent, this would likely be seen by most family court judges as displaying a lack of stability and parenting acumen.

It goes without saying that when a parent like you must deal with a CPS case it is best to do so with help. I cannot recall a single client of our law office who was upset at having too much help in the context of their CPS or child custody case. This truly is a time where having help matters a great deal when it comes to sorting out issues in a CPS case and then placing your attention back on a child custody case when the CPS matter is resolved. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan is here to help you and your family.

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