Put yourself in the following situation. You are at home with your family, minding your own business when you hear a knock at your front door. Not expecting anyone, you are surprised to find a person who you do not recognize standing on your doorstep. When you open the door, the person introduces themselves as an employee of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. You have no earthly idea what that means and still don’t know why this person is here.
However, your mind quickly snaps into focus when this person begins to talk with you about your son. It recently came to the Department’s attention, she tells you, that your son showed up to school with bruising on his arms. Someone, the State of Texas cannot tell you exactly who due to confidentiality requirements, reported these bruises as being the possible result of abuse or neglect of the child. As your son’s primary caretaker, you were the first person that this investigator came to talk to.
At that point, she asks you to enter your home to look around and possibly talk with your son. He’s in school, you inform the state employee. Now she hands you some paperwork as well as a business card. This person is from Child Protective Services, you begin to think to yourself. All you know about CPS is that these are the people who try to take children away from their parents. Now you start to get nervous. The complexion of this visit takes on a new meaning now that you are starting to regain your bearings. Maybe you shouldn’t have let her in the house? Should you go to school and bring your son home? All these questions begin to swirl in your mind.
The CPS investigator pokes around the house, looks briefly in your son’s bedroom, and then leaves. She tells you that she will get back in touch with you if she has any questions but otherwise leaves without additional information being exchanged. The whole episode lasted less than twenty minutes. In and out. However, that is not how these CPS investigations tend to work out. When CPS gains a foothold into your life it can turn your entire existence upside down. The nature of your relationship with your child can hang in the balance if you are not careful.
Knowing nothing about this person, their organization of what you are even being accused of (if anything) is a scary position to find yourself in. It is not normal to have to face down a strange person from a strange group with your child’s well-being at the center of it all. Before you move forward it makes sense to learn as much as possible so that you can prepared for what comes your way. Realistically, however, you have family and work obligations taking up nearly all your day. Even then, what can you do with your few spare hours of free time to prepare for a case like this?
That is where the Law Office of Bryan Fagan comes into play. We are fortunate to be able to serve clients around Texas facing these exact circumstances. In today’s blog post, we are going to face the challenges of a CPS investigation and share with you what you need to know as you embark on this type of case. Make no mistake- a CPS case is not your typical family law case. There are specific challenges and issues which can arise which are unique to CPS. Fortunately, we know what it takes for a parent to succeed in this type of case. Stick around as we share with you that information so that you can move forward with confidence.
Why did CPS show up at your home?
When you find a CPS employee on your doorstep asking you questions about your child it is because someone has reported to CPS that he or she believes that your child has been the victim of abuse or neglect. CPS must investigate this report under state law. The report could have come from a neighbor, acquaintance, friend, teacher, principal, doctor, or anyone else who knows your child. CPS cannot disclose the identity of this person, although you may develop your suspicions about who made this initial report to CPS.
What will CPS do during its investigation?
Collecting information about your child and your family are necessary element of a CPS investigation. This necessarily means that CPS will attempt to ask questions, investigate your home, and perform other actions that allow for them to collect the most amount of information possible. Their methods may be in line with their protocols, but it can sometimes seem like these investigations are obstructive or even disrespectful to your position as a person being investigated.
CPS may gain the ability to obtain medical and school records of your child. Your child may be examined by CPS either under a court order or with your permission. Photos may be taken of your child, of your home, or other issues relevant to your case. Needless to say, some of these things you will not want CPS to do. As you will find in a moment, you have rights in these CPS investigations. That is the key to being able to defend yourself, your child, and your family- understanding your rights.
What can you do during a CPS investigation?
The other side to the coin in a CPS case is that you have rights, as well. First and foremost, you should consider your job as that of a parent who can show CPS that you can keep your child out of harm’s way. Of course, no parent can continually prevent harm from happening to their child. Accidents and misfortune happen that are inescapable. However, those situations are hopefully few and far between. CPS will be looking at your life from the perspective of: can you prevent foreseeable harm from occurring to your child?
One of the most proactive steps that you can take from the beginning of a CPS case is to hire an experienced CPS attorney to walk you through this case. Even if you have been through a child custody or divorce case previously, we at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can confirm that a CPS case is a different animal than your standard family law case. Having an attorney who is experienced at communicating with CPS and advocating for clients is a huge advantage to have at the outset of your case.
There are specific steps that you can take that can drastically improve your chances of having a relatively straightforward experience with CPS. First, you can consider giving the information of people who know you and know your child to CPS. These folks can attest to your skills as a parent, clarify misconceptions that may have arisen in the CPS report, and make sure that a full rendition of your story is provided to the agency. Remember- CPS has a one-sided interpretation of any “events” surrounding abuse or neglect of your child. You have a right to provide CPS with a full picture of what did or not did not happen.
Specifically, you can provide names of information who can confirm what happened to your child if abuse is being alleged. Bruising on your child can look suspicious for child abuse but it could have just as easily been caused by an accident or by a sporting event that your child took part in. Some issues may arise because of medical conditions suffered by your child. A family member, friend, or neighbor who is familiar with your child’s condition and can help explain the situation to CPS could be helpful in this situation.
Above all else, if you disagree on something in your case make sure to communicate those differences known to the investigator. Reasonable people can disagree on a range of subjects in a complex situation like a CPS case. If you do not communicate your position to CPS, then you will not be able to help them understand where you are coming from. Remember that you are not only advocating for yourself in a CPS case but also for your child.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed in a CPS investigation. The deck is stacked against you in many ways. While you can overcome those challenges within the case structure it is better to have an advocate by your side throughout the entire process. A free-of-charge consultation with one of the experienced CPS attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan may be just what you need to help you in an important time in your family’s lives.
An overview of what to expect during a CPS investigation
A CPS investigation involves the agency talking to several different people about your family and your child. You can expect to be asked questions about what happened in a particular place and time that may have led to abuse of your child. An investigation centers around these interviews of you and other relevant people. The better-developed CPS cases typically occur because the agency was able to get a hold of people with direct knowledge of the circumstances of your case.
This means that people who live in the same household as your child- family members and non-family members alike, can all be interviewed as part of a CPS case. Teachers who see your child daily, a nurse who saw your child in connection with the child’s injuries, or anyone else who had witnessed the incident in question can be interviewed. Again, CPS will try to cast as wide a net as possible when it comes to talking with people who may have information about the case.
Should you talk to CPS about the case?
This is the most important question that you will need to answer at the beginning of a CPS case. You are not obligated to talk to CPS about anything involving your child. From the first moment that the agency knocks on your door, you do not have to speak to or even answer the door. This is a critical juncture in the case. You may be the person who has the most to offer the agency as far as information is concerned. On the other hand, it may be in your best interests and even those of your child to not speak to the agency.
If you do decide to talk to CPS about the investigation involving your child then you have some options to consider. A CPS employee should first identify who they are and the purpose of his or her being at your home. You will then have an opportunity to tell him or her what your position on what happened leading up to the alleged acts of abuse or neglect. Be sure to tell the truth. Inconsistencies in your story will cause problems in the investigation. Those inconsistencies can present problems for you in the courtroom, as well. A good rule of thumb is to act as if a judge will be reviewing what you say. Be respectful to the CPS employee and above all else be honest.
CPS may be able to help you identify programs and services that you need to help improve your life and your parenting skills. We all struggle from time to time in our lives. The difference between the position you are in and the position that many people find themselves in after those situations is that you may not have the skills to cope with issues or to communicate your way into a calmer situation. Different services through community outreach programs and counseling programs like these can be a huge help to you during a difficult time in your life.
Will CPS try to speak to your child about the report?
In short, yes, CPS will attempt to speak to your child about what happened. Of course, this will depend in large part on the age of your child. An investigator from CPS can try to interview any child who has been the alleged victim of abuse or neglect. These interviews must be conducted at a reasonable time or place which would include your home, your child’s school, or their daycare. At a minimum, CPS will want to talk to your child about whether the alleged acts of abuse or neglect occurred. A run-down, as best as your child can recall, will also be asked of your child to better complete the timeline of the events that occurred concerning your little one.
Your child cannot be interviewed in your home without you giving him or her permission to do so first. If your child is staying with a relative or friend during this time, then he or she can also permit the agency to speak to your child about the alleged acts of abuse or neglect. So, if you do not want CPS to be able to speak to your child then you need to speak to your relative or friend so that they know to not grant CPS permission to speak to your child.
What you should not do is try to influence or coach your child into saying anything or denying anything to CPS during the interview. You can end up looking very bad in the eyes of CPS and ultimately in the opinion of a CPS court judge. Your child may already feel like he or she is caught in the middle of a process that he or she does not fully understand. With that said, trying to pressure your child to say anything in an interview can make a difficult situation even harder for a young child.
What happens when CPS attempts to come into your home?
CPS does not have to provide you with any specific type of notice before coming into your home to perform an inspection. Just like the first time the CPS employee approached you at home, an attempted inspection can occur at random or when you least expect it. You do not have to grant the employee permission to enter your home. Even if the employee comes to your home with a law enforcement officer, then you still do not need to grant permission. Note that if CPS is granted a search warrant by a judge, then your permission is not necessary for that inspection to take place.
With so many moving pieces in a CPS case, you must have representation to walk alongside you and your family. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan appreciate the time you have provided us today here on our blog and we hope that you will join us tomorrow as we continue to share interesting and informative blogs about the world of 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.