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Can CPS photograph your house and request your child’s medical records in Texas?

There is nothing more invasive than a state agency knocking on your door and asking you for access to your life. Add to that the fact that you are also being suspected of abusing and/or neglecting your children and the stress associated with your CPS encounters is magnified. Just how detailed could their investigation end up being? Can they enter your home? Could they take photos or even remove your or your children’s belongings? What about medical records and school information for your child? Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will seek to answer those pertinent questions.

Access to your home is predicated on providing CPS with permission to enter

CPS cannot enter your home absent your permission or a court order. At the early stages of their investigation into your family, it is very unlikely that they have a court order so your permission is essential to their being able to conduct an investigation. If you are interested in learning some of the pros and cons regarding allowing CPS to enter your home you may want to go back and read yesterday's blog post where we discuss that topic in great detail. If you do give CPS permission to come into your home what exactly can they do?

The caseworker or investigator will likely want to take photos of the interior of your home once he or she is inside. The living conditions of your child are important to be aware of in order to ascertain whether there is a significant risk of harm that is presented to your child. Dirty clothes, animal waste, sharp objects, household cleaners within reach of a child and even illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia are the type of dangerous conditions that CPS will want to document if they exist within the confines of your home.

A home in need of major repairs or one that is extremely dirty is generally speaking the type of home that will result in a report that does not end up in your favor. Holes in the walls or toilets that overflow when flushed can generally be repaired with only a bit of money and effort expended. Understand that the photos they take could end up being used against you in court if it comes to it.

If you are at home when CPS comes to take photos then you must give them permission to take photos. However, even if you are not at home when CPS comes over any resident of the home who is determined to be old enough by CPS to give consent may do so. Be careful of this fact and make sure that you communicate to anyone living with you that CPS should not be granted entry regardless of their stated reason for being at your house.

Can CPS take photos of your child?

CPS can take photos of any injuries that they can see after interviewing your child. You will need to grant CPS permission to speak to your child, whether at home or in your child’s school or daycare. Keep in mind that CPS will also be looking to see how well nourished your child is or if he or she appears sick or unclean. Your child’s general appearance will be viewed as a major indicator of your ability to care for your child on a day in and day out basis.

What about medical and school records? Can CPS request those as well?

In order to determine whether or not you have a criminal history, a criminal background search will be performed. All other members of your household will also have a background check performed. Assaults or drug use crimes among any members of your household are likely to be considered a significant safety threat to your children. Sexual offenses are particularly grievous in nature and are likely going to be seen as emergency grounds to justify the immediate removal of your child from your house. If you have spent time in jail or are facing charges that will likely end up with you in jail this will be seen as the further reason to remove your child from your home for safety reasons.

Prior history with CPS will also impact your current CPS case. If you or anyone else in your household has had a history of CPS involvement then research will be done into the type of case yours was and how long ago it occurred. Your behavior in those cases will be especially relevant. Did you cooperate with the investigation? Did you obstruct the investigation and generally act poorly? How well did you address the safety concerns that the agency had? Fixing a problem with the assistance of CPS will generally cause you to look good in the eyes of a CPS investigator.

CPS can contact your child's school to request a copy of their school records. Relevant information includes your child's absences from school, whether your child is late for first period classes with any frequency and what sort of grades he or she is making. School problems can be an immediate indicator of problems at home but obviously, are not enough to show abuse or neglect in and of themselves.

Finally, if you are asked to sign a release of information so CPS can request mental health or medical records of you and your child you should consider speaking to an attorney first. An open-ended release of information could allow CPS to look for information and records beyond what they have already told you about. An attorney will be able to guide you on the pros and cons of doing so.

For the purposes of our blog today, I can tell you that if you refuse to sign a release of information form that CPS can ask a judge to sign a court order that provides them the same right to request and view medical or mental health records. A hearing will be set up wherein you will have the ability to argue that CPS should not be able to see the medical records that have been obtained if any. It would be in your best interests to have an attorney represent you in this hearing so that he or she can offer legal arguments as to why CPS should not be allowed to view the records.

What happens after the CPS Case concludes?

All things, good and bad, must come to an end. So what happens when your CPS case is all over with? What are the possible outcomes?

At the conclusion of every case that CPS handles, it will label your case in one of the following ways:

-reason to believe- based on the evidence that CPS has gathered it has determined that abuse or neglect of your child has occurred

-ruled out- based on the evidence that CPS has gathered it has determined that abuse or neglect of your child has not occurred

-unable to complete- CPS was unable to make a determination as to whether abuse or neglect of your child occurred because you were not located by CPS, have moved or refused to cooperate with their investigation; likely a request to a judge for a court order forcing your compliance with the investigation was denied

-unable to determine- based on the evidence that CPS was able to collect, the agency was unable to determine whether or not abuse or neglect occurred

CPS has options on how to proceed once a final determination has been made in relation to abuse/neglect of your child.

Safety Planning- CPS may ask you about your willingness to participate in a process wherein a safety plan is created. A safety plan will allow your child to remain home with you while their investigation is ongoing. All of the terms of the plan must be agreed to by you and CPS. You have to follow the plan once it is signed off on. If you do not do that there will be consequences- likely one of which will include your child being removed from your home.

One thing that I would like to make note of is that if you and your spouse are in different situations as far as the health and safety of your child are concerned you can request to have separate safety plans. For example, if your spouse is the person who is being investigated for having allegedly abused or neglected your child then he can have a different safety plan than you have.

Family Based Safety Services (FBSS): FBSS offers you and your family additional help over and above a safety plan. Long term safety is the goal when FBSS becomes involved. The people who work with FBSS will do an assessment of your home to determine the safety of your child and will work with you and your family on addressing safety issues that are able to be addressed immediately.

If you need help contacting daycares, parenting courses or anger management courses in your area in order to meet the requirements of your safety plan then FBSS can assist you in meeting these goals. If you refuse to participate in an FBSS, CPS can request a court order that forces you to comply.

Parental Child Safety Placement (PCSP): CPS may ask you to send your child to live with another person or family on a temporary basis if it is determined by their agency that your child is not safe in your home. This is not the same thing as an outright removal of your child from your home. Parental Child Safety Placement plans are intended to provide you with a temporary and safe place for your child so that you can deal with whatever problems are confronting you associated with you or your home environment. Whoever you choose to have your child live with temporary should be a close family friend or relative who already has a relationship with your child.

The job of your CPS caseworker in this stage will be to help you figure out and pinpoint what changes need to be made in order to have your child returned to your home. Once those changes have been identified you will need to take steps to make them occur before your child will be allowed back into your house.

The failure to make the changes as suggested or recommended by CPS can result in CPS asking a judge to be granted temporary managing conservatorship over your child. In that case, CPS will have the ability to make a determination if the person you suggested that your child lives with is still a possibility.

This option is probably not one that will be available to you if your child has been the victim of a severe injury or if you have previously violated the terms of an earlier PCSP. Your family members will all have to pass a background check in order to be allowed to temporarily house your child. If there are no agreeable options in this regard CPS will likely ask to take temporary custody over your child.

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