Once Child Protective Services (CPS) has become involved with your family, the agency will begin to gather information about you, your child and your family. Personal information will be included in this information gathering process that they undertake. Information can be obtained by directly questioning you and your family. They may also seek the ability to request information from doctor’s offices and your child’s school.
This may strike you as being unfair or even illegal. How can CPS request information from your child’s doctor when you don’t want them to be able to do so? Your instincts on this subject would be correct. CPS can obtain a great deal of information in the furtherance of their investigation but even they have limits to what they are able to do. Certain information relative to your life is confidential which means that CPS cannot get its hands on it unless you provide them with your consent to do so.
Your attorney must keep information that you provide to him confidentially, as well. Ask your lawyer during the early stages of representation what information must be kept confidential. For the purposes of today's blog post, I will share with you information about what is and what is not considered to be confidential for the purposes of an attorney-client relationship.
The general idea behind the attorney-client privilege is that the things you tell her must be kept confidential if that information is relevant to the case that the attorney is representing you on. It is crucial to the success of your case that you build a strong bond of trust with your attorney. Part of having a relationship with an attorney is being able to tell him or her the full extent of the details of your situation. Even if there is something that is embarrassing and does not necessarily want to share it, you should do so in case it is relevant and can be used by your attorney to help you and your family.
On the other hand, if your attorney becomes aware of information that shows evidence of the abuse or neglect of a child he must report that information to CPS. Also, if you share information that would stop a crime from being committed then your attorney may share otherwise confidential information with police or law enforcement.
Confidential information will likely be shared in your case by your attorney
It is not a bad idea for your attorney to share what might otherwise be considered to be confidential information. The reason for this is that confidential information is disclosed in court can often help your case. Your treatment regimen, for example, in regard to drug addiction can and should be disclosed to a judge if you are improving and abiding by the care plan as laid out by your treating providers. Anything that can help your argument that your child should be returned home to you sooner rather than later should be discussed.
Keep in mind that you and your attorney are a team. When you hire a lawyer you are not tossing him or her the keys to the car and asking him to drive. Rather, you are the driver and he is the navigator. He provides advice to you but you are in charge of directing the vehicle on which way to go. When it comes to the sharing of confidential information, he should not do so until and unless he verifies with you that you agree to do so ahead of time.
Will information you share with people other than your attorney be kept confidential?
It is important to realize that only conversations with your attorney have the privilege of confidentiality attached to them. If you are speaking to someone other than your attorney in conjunction with your case then run the risk of that information being used against you in your case. For this reason, when you are speaking to your caseworker, their supervisor or the attorney for CPS you need to choose your words wisely. It does not matter if you tell the other person that you want that information kept secret. Imagine the feeling you will have if that person gets on the witness stand and testifies to what you had told them in a conversation that you had thought was private.
If you attend a mediation session or a family group conference, the information disclosed within those sessions are considered confidential. The only exception to this rule is if the information is relevant to the neglect or abuse or a child. Then, as we have been discussing in previous blog posts, such information must be disclosed to CPS.
Finally, your child also has the right to disclose information that is to be maintained confidentially. Your child's attorney owes him or her the same duty to keep information confidential as your attorney owes to you. Your attorney must keep these pieces of information confidential unless your child lets him or her know that it can be disclosed in court. This applies to you as well- you cannot request information about your child's attorney on the basis that you are your child's parent.
Be wary of social media
In my years of practicing family law, I can tell you that very little good (and a great deal of bad) comes from the world of social media. If you are someone who loves to go online and post photos and updates from your life I would advise you to take a break from doing so as long as you have an active CPS case that is ongoing.
The information that you share online is public. You may feel like you are in your own little world posting photos and thoughts about your life, but that is an illusion. The information you share is very much a part of the public domain and is only a few clicks away from a CPS caseworker or their attorney. I can assure you that anyone who is working “on the other side” will be able to go online and search through your social media history in an attempt to find evidence to make you look bad. Your friends and relatives are fair game, as well.
Consider what would happen if a judge came across a photo of you posing with friends at a party where alcohol or even drugs were visible? Videos of nights out on the town or a photo with a past boyfriend who abused your child would certainly work against you when it comes to your CPS case.
What can you do to prevent your online persona from sinking your CPS case? The answers are simple, yet difficult for many to follow through with. The first is the most obvious: do not use social media. Do not post photos or status updates. Get offline and read a book. If CPS is involved with your life and your family's lives then you have very little to gain from your use of social media. Once you post something you have very little (if any) control over who views it and the impressions that they take away from that posting. Even if a judgment about a photo was a big misunderstanding it can still take away from the focus of your case.
When the safety and well being of your child is paramount what sense is there in posting photos showing that your child has been exposed to drugs, alcohol or your friends that use those substances? At the very least you should make it so only people associated with you can view your profile on any social media platform. Making your profile public means that anyone in the world can view what you are up to. If your friends insist on uploading photos that depict you in a less than flattering manner please ask them to take those photos off the internet.
Lastly, if you do have a social media presence you should not delete your profile or any photos that are included in your profile. If CPS has filed a court case against you that profile could contain information that is relevant to your case. It is illegal for you to destroy information that CPS may ask to obtain during the course of your case. However, you can deactivate your account or simply place your account in an “inactive” status.
What CPS will do in conjunction with an investigation into your family
If CPS receives a report of possible abuse or neglect of your child then they have the legal duty to investigate that report and determine whether or not it is substantiated by the evidence available. Your investigator will gather information that will determine whether or not your child is safe and if CPS needs to become involved in your case on a more sustained basis. Information can be gathered by interviewing people in your life, neighbors, relatives, doctors, and teachers. Photos can be taken of your child, your home and any other relevant places. Police and school records can be obtained as well.
What you can do in conjunction with a CPS investigation
You are not powerless during the course of a CPS case. You can take a great deal of action in order to protect yourself and advocate on behalf of your child. Showing CPS that you have what it takes to keep your child safe should be at the top of your list. You also have the right to speak with and strategize with an attorney at any point in the process. Until your case gets to the courtroom you cannot be appointed an attorney but you can choose to hire on at any point prior to this.
You should make known to CPS early on in their investigation the names of any persons who could help them make a determination that your child is safe living in your home with you. The names and contact information for any person that can substantiate your position about the true causes of your child’s injuries. Do not, under any circumstances, lose your temper with you are working with a CPS caseworker. There will, undoubtedly, will be instances where you have a disagreement or a misunderstanding with the CPS caseworker assigned to work with you. Do not let go of your emotions during this time period. Be patient with the CPS caseworker and always give him or her the benefit of the doubt as far as viewing their actions.
What to expect in a CPS investigation will be discussed in tomorrow’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you are interested in learning more about what will happen in a CPS investigation please stay tuned to our blog and join us tomorrow to learn more. We will go over interviews, the people that CPS will attempt to talk with as well as what the effects can be if you choose to speak to CPS in conjunction with their information gathering processes. You will be better served to protect your child and their rights if you first understand what will happen in a CPS investigation.
Before tomorrow if you have any questions about the materials that we covered in today’s blog post, I recommend that you contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with one of our licensed family law attorneys. It is a privilege of ours to be able to serve the community that we live in and look forward to being able to share our story and our services with you.
From Atascocita to Porter and over to Katy, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan take a great deal of pride in being able to work with people just like you and your family. Our website is a great resource to learn more about us and to schedule a consultation. Please take a look and let us know how we can best serve you in the future. Thank you for your time and consideration.