The concept of the attorney-client privilege is pretty well known among citizens of our country. The basic premise is that if you are represented by an attorney, the information that you provide to them is confidential and cannot be shared with another person even if asked to do so. This privilege allows a bond of trust to grow between you and your attorney and is thought to allow your attorney to represent your interests more effectively.
On the other hand, the things you say to people involved with your case other than your attorney do not carry the same privilege. Think about this when your Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworker comes into your home and asks you questions. You may feel very comfortable sharing information with them in this setting because you are comfortable, but I would recommend exercising some caution before doing so. Because this information is not confidential, it can be turned around on you and utilized with your permission in a court hearing or trial. The last thing you want to encounter is having the caseworker be called to testify in a trial about that bit of information you had told them.
A confidentiality exception as it relates to mediation
If you and the other parties to your case eventually attend mediation, there is an exception to this rule against confidentiality that applies. If you provide information to a mediator during a mediation session, it is confidential unless you expressly authorize the mediator to share the information with the other parties. Even in this situation, that information cannot be utilized against you in a hearing or trial.
Likewise, as with mediation, if you attend a Family Group Conference at a CPS facility, the information discussed in a meeting must be kept confidential. The exception to this general rule is that if you or any other party share information related to your child's safety and well-being, CPS must use this information to protect your child to the best of its capabilities.
Concurrent criminal case? Read on to learn more.
Some folks that I have worked with regarding a CPS case also have an active criminal law case going on at the same time. While much of the information about your criminal law case is a part of the public record and can be accessed online without your knowledge or consent, you should never volunteer information about your criminal case without your criminal attorney present with you. The reason being is that anything you discuss in your criminal law case can be used against you in those proceedings. Coordination between you, your CPS attorney, and your criminal attorney is essential for you to achieve positive results in each case.
Does your child also have the protection of confidentiality associated with what they say?
As we discussed in yesterday's blog post, every child involved in an active CPS case will have an attorney assigned to represent their interests. Just as your attorney owes you a duty of care to keep your communications private, your child's attorney (known as an attorney ad litem) owes your child the same duty. Unless your child specifically instructs their attorney to share information told to them, the information must be kept confidential.
Why is this case, you may be asking? After all, you are your child's caretaker and conservator and have been since their birth. It may sound a little like secret-keeping when your child's lawyer is allowed to know things that you may not be able to learn. Despite how "wrong" this may feel to you on some level, I would tell you that your child needs to be able to trust their attorney. Again, your child has been assigned their attorney because their interests may not perfectly align with your own. If your child cannot trust the person assigned to represent them, their rights may not be adequately represented.
One thing that you should not be doing under any circumstances is to speak to your child's attorney about what they have told them. Remember that you are asking the attorney to violate the duty of care that they have to your child by trying to get confidential information out of them. What's more, if you get angry or upset at the attorney, this can skew the attorney ad litem's view of you for the worse and may impact the recommendations made to the judge about what living situation is in your child's best interests.
Social Media and Confidentiality
Many people, adults included, indulge in at least one form of social media nowadays. For the most part, this social media usage is harmless and is utilized more to keep up with relatives and friends that we cannot see as often as we would like. At the beginning of your CPS case, it is essential to evaluate your own social media presence and decide in advance the extent to which you are comfortable with your private matters being made available on the internet.
A good piece of general advice that I can provide you with is to be careful with what you share online during your CPS case. The main reason for stating this is that the information you post online (conversations, photographs, etc.) becomes public information the second it shows up on your computer screen. As private citizens, we are entitled to a relatively vast amount of confidentiality and privacy in our doings. However, this right is waived when social media is introduced into the equation.
CPS knows how to use a computer to access social media
If you think you can be sly and post online and not have a CPS employee discover those postings, I assure you that you are incorrect. CPS employees learn how to access information and investigate your case thoroughly. One of the easiest methods for discovering previously unknown information is to comb through your social media profiles to gain a window into your and your child's personal life.
Perception is everything in a family law case, which goes double for CPS cases. Think about the things you say and post online and how someone with an interest that is adverse to your own may be able to utilize them against you. If your child has been removed from your home due to your abuse of alcohol, go through your online photos to see how many depict you and your child with a bottle or can of alcohol nearby. You may have a valid excuse- that bottle belonged to your brother, etc.- but the mere idea that you are consuming alcohol before your child can be a huge negative for your case.
You may think that your online persona can be kept separate from you in real life, but you would be wrong about this. I have seen clients who believe themselves to be great and upstanding parents have ridiculous posts on social media. I'm talking about open drug use, firearms displayed in the home, and offensive postings about all different kinds of subjects on top of everything else. If there is anything online that could be construed as being unsafe to a child and unbecoming of a parent, then you should consider whether or not to remove those sorts of posts before your case begins.
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- Supervised Visitation in a Texas Divorce: Can it happen to me?
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas CPS Defense Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding CPS, it's essential to speak with one of our Houston, TX CPS defense Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our CPS defense lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles CPS defense cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.