You probably have a fair amount of questions in regard to any investigation that Child Protective Services (CPS) begins in relation to your family. If this is your first time going through the process and have no clue about what to expect you may be wondering just how far the investigation can go. For instance- is there a chance that CPS could actually speak to your child during an investigation?
The answer to that question is that, yes, CPS will most likely speak to your child during the investigation into whether or not your child has been the victim of abuse or neglect. CPS has the right to interview any child who has been the reported victim of abuse or neglect. The interview may take at any location or time that is reasonable. This includes your home or your child’s school or daycare.
There are some specific areas of subject matter that the CPS investigator will be most interested in. Those would include whether or not the alleged incident(s) of abuse or neglect actually occurred, what happened during those incidents and whether your child feels safe living with you. Finally, their opinion as to whether or not abuse or neglect will occur again in the future will be asked.
What will happen if CPS attempts to interview your child in your home?
CPS may want to interview your child in a place that he or she is comfortable. Your house would be a logical setting with this goal in mind. However, in order to be able to interview your child at home, an investigator must seek your permission to do so. Nobody with CPS should force to you give your permission. Keep in mind that anyone who is caring for your child- like a relative or babysitter- can give permission to CPS for an interview of your child to take place in your home.
If permission is given and CPS begins an interview of your child in your home it is likely that you will not be allowed in the same room. The reason for this is that CPS does not want you to distract or otherwise influence the responses that your child gives to the questions of the CPS investigator.
It may be tempting, therefore, to try and coach your child to give certain responses to questions that you anticipate him or her to be asked. Pressuring a child to answer in a certain way is a bad idea on many levels. For one, it will make you look really bad in the eyes of the CPS investigator. Attempting to lie or act deceitfully in relation to the investigation can come back to haunt you if you get into a situation where your case goes in front of a judge. The other relevant consideration is that your child, depending on their age, probably will struggle to distinguish between the truth and what you want your child to say. The end result will likely be your child struggling to give any kind of coherent answers.
Interviewing your child at school
Other than in your home, the next most likely place for an interview to occur would be at your child’s school. The rules associated with being able to interview your child at school versus in your home are a bit different. First of all, if you are at the school at the time that CPS wants to interview your child you must give them permission to do so. If you are not at the school, however, CPS is free to interview your child without your permission. From my experience, if you do not give permission to CPS to interview your child at home then they may seek to do so “behind your back” while your child is at school.
In the event that CPS does interview your child without your knowledge while he or she is in school, they must notify you of their having done so within 24 hours of conducting the interview. An interpreter must be provided to your child if he or she has communication problems in English. Hearing, speech or cognitive issues may also limit your child’s ability to communicate effectively with CPS. The agency needs to provide assistance for your child as needed.
How an examination of your child could work
Depending upon the type of allegations made against you in relation to your child, CPS can request a range of different examinations. Physical, sexual abuse or medical examinations are the most commonly encountered. If you are present at the time the CPS employee would like to conduct an examination you must be asked for your permission in order to conduct the exam. If a court has ordered the exam to occur then your permission is not necessary. Once your child is removed from your home CPS does not have to get your permission to conduct any exams on your child.
Keep in mind that CPS can always ask a court for an order that grants them the authority to conduct an examination of your child even in the event that you decline to give them permission to do so. Odds are good that the court will grant the request so long as CPS presents even a small amount of evidence pertaining to its necessity. Once a court order is in place you need to abide by it. Attempting to shield your child from an exam after a court order has been received can work against you in the long run and may result in you being found in contempt of court.
What occurs during a physical exam as conducted by CPS?
A visual exam of your child will be likely if your child has been the reported victim of abuse or neglect. Other children, such as siblings, who live in your household can also be examined even if they were not named in any report received by CPS. Obvious physical injuries, malnourishment, evidence of poor hygiene practices or other physical signs of abuse or neglect will be looked for during an examination.
What occurs during a sexual abuse exam as conducted by CPS?
If your child has been abused sexually or has suffered any type of severe, physical trauma then he or she will likely be taken to a special child advocacy center and will have an interview conducted there. Photographs will likely be taken of any injuries and tests will be administered in order to determine if any sexual abuse has occurred.
These sort of exams are only conducted in limited circumstances. CPS would first need to either obtain your consent for the exam to occur, obtain a court order that allows the exam to occur or be named as a temporary conservator of your child in order for a sexual abuse exam to happen. Finally, your case-worker or investigator should not and will not be performing the exam. A doctor or nurse will be brought in to do so.
What occurs during a medical exam as conducted by CPS?
A medical exam may be requested by the CPS employee that you are working within your investigation. If the report that came into CPS details some sort of allegation that your child has suffered injuries that are not readily apparent with a typical, visual inspection a medical exam may be necessary. Also, CPS may want a doctor's opinion about a condition that may have caused an injury to your child. If you consent to the exam in writing or attend the exam then it can proceed.
What goes on in a home inspection during a CPS case?
CPS can stop by your home to conduct an inspection at any time (within reason). They do not need to provide you with any notice of their intent to do so. When the CPS worker comes to your door, he or she must identify themselves and tell you who he or she is. Your permission to enter the home must be obtained or inspection cannot occur- at least on that day. Be aware that even if CPS arrives with a police officer or constable, they cannot enter your home without your permission or a warrant to do so. Police officers attend these sorts of inspections if your caseworker believes their safety to be at risk.
Your spouse, a relative living in your home, an older child or even a babysitter can give permission for CPS to enter your home if you are not there to do so. If you are aware that CPS has attempted to enter your home to conduct an inspection and you are not willing to provide your consent for them to do so you need to warn any other person in the house and instruct them not to give permission to CPS to enter. If you fail to do so you may find that an inspection has occurred without your knowledge or consent.
What happens if you say “yes” to allow CPS to inspect your home?
The investigator will be happy to be allowed into your home. These folks work with people who deny them access with great frequency. The process would then involve having to obtain a court order to enter. Rather than force CPS to do so, it can be argued, the CPS caseworker would likely be "happier" with you if you chose to allow them to enter at their first request. Be aware that: 1) making a caseworker happy is not your job and may not be in your best interests and 2) that if CPS comes across anything in the home that could be seen as a safety threat, it could go towards having your child removed from your home.
What happens if you say “no” to allowing CPS to inspect your home?
A response of “no” to the question of whether or not CPS has permission to enter your home to conduct an inspection could cause the CPS caseworker to form a negative opinion of you. You may be viewed as being a “difficult” person and this could affect how the investigation proceeds. Again, your job is not to be your investigator’s best friend or to be the most pleasant person in the world. Your job is to do what is best for your child and for yourself. That could mean not granting access to your home at the first opportunity.
Again, CPS can ask a judge to grant them permission to enter your home. The CPS investigator can if the situation calls for it, enter your home without your consent if he or she perceives your child to be in a dangerous situation. Exigent circumstances are what a police officer would call them. If there is not enough time to obtain a court order then immediate entrance may be sought. Removal of your child is all that CPS can do under these circumstances.
Unless the allegations made in the report to CPS are so severe that there are no other options available to your investigator, the option of entering your home without your permission will likely not be chosen by CPS. You need to be aware of what your house contains before allowing permission to enter. Even things like stacks of dirty clothes, a sink full of dishes or ants climbing over old food can be reason enough to have CPS remove your child.
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