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What is the purpose of a Child Protective Services investigation in Texas?

If you have become involved in a Child Protective Services investigation in relation to your child or a child in your family, then you likely have many questions that you need to be answered. It can be startling to be living your life normally and then all of a sudden you are blind-sided by phone calls and possible home visits from the State of Texas. Having no experience dealing with a group of people that can potentially affect the relationship between you and your child can be intimidating, as well. You need to learn how to handle yourself in conjunction with one of their investigations and how to protect your child from harm. 

Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will introduce the topic of Child Protective Services investigations to you. We will spend some time providing an overview of this subject so that you will have knowledge of the essential pieces of information as you begin to face this challenge. While there are sure to be difficulties that you experience with the investigation, the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn as much as you can as early as you can. 

How does Child Protective Services begin its investigation?

Child Protective Services works as a state agency within the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Their key objective is to protect Texans from abuse or neglect. In order to further their efforts to achieve this objective Child Protective Services will conduct investigations as to possible incidents of abuse and/or neglect that are reported by everyday people like you and me.

The state provides a hotline for people to call and report incidents that may involve abuse and/or neglect of a child. These reports are made anonymously and then sent to whatever local Child Protective Services office is local to the area of the state where the child lives. From there, an investigation will begin once it is determined that there is an indication that abuse or neglect has occurred.

Abuse defined for Child Protective Services cases

Abuse in Texas is defined as a mental or emotional injury to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development or psychological functioning. This is more or less the commission of abuse of a child. On the other hand, omission in the area of child abuse looks more like the causing or permitting of a child to be in a situation in which the child sustains a mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development or psychological functioning. 

Finally, we can also look at abuse as a physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child, or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child, including an injury that is at variance with the history or explanation given and excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent, guardian or managing or possessory conservator that does not expose the child to a substantial risks of harm. In the alternative, if you were to fail to make a reasonable effort to prevent an action by another person that results in physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child. 

The bottom line that you should take away from these definitions is that you can commit abuse against a child even if you never put your hands on the child. If you fail to remove your child from a situation where it was likely or even possible that abuse could occur when there may be grounds to find you at fault for child abuse.

Neglect defined for Child Protective Services cases

The most straightforward definition of neglect is the leaving of a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm, without arranging for necessary care for the child, and the demonstration of an intent not to return by a parent, guardian, or managing or possessory conservator of the child. This includes leaving a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of sexual conduct harmful to the child. 

A question that you would need to ask yourself before leaving your child in any situation would be whether or not placing your child in or failing to remove the child from that situation required that the child possessed judgment that was beyond that child’s level of maturity or physical condition. 

For example, if you left your four-year-old home alone and he burned his hand on a space heater that could be neglectful because there is no way that a four-year-old has the knowledge, experience or ability to care for himself on his own. On the other hand, if you left your seventeen-year-old home alone and the same thing happened it is unlikely that this would constitute child neglect.

More information on how a report of abuse or neglect is made to Child Protective Services

Now that we have a better idea of what abuse and neglect look like, now we can discuss in greater detail just how these allegations get to Child Protective Services in the first place.

For the most part, reports come into Child Protective Services via their hotline. A person that calls their hotline can give their name or remain anonymous, but in the internal paperwork that CPS will use to administer the allegation the reporter’s name is always kept confidential. Any person who has reason to believe that there has been abuse or neglect of the child should make a report to Child Protective Services.

There is a heightened standard for certain professionals to make reports that relate to abuse or neglect of a child. A report must be made to Child Protective Services within two days of learning of the abuse or neglect. Attorneys, doctors, members of the clergy and teachers are professions that commonly encounter situations in which sensitive information is transmitted that leads to the need for a report to be made. 

Will your child have to be removed from your home as a result of an investigation?

This is an important question to ask. Based on the severity of the allegations made to Child Protective Services by a reporter and how immediate the risk of harm to your child, a decision can be made to remove your child from your home. There are multiple routes that Child Protective Services can take in order to protect a child from abuse or neglect. 

An order that seeks to remove a person that committed acts of physical and/or sexual abuse

Child Protective Services can file a petition that asks a judge to order the removal of a person that has allegedly abused a child physically or sexually. The state can also file for a protective order on behalf of your child in order to protect your child for a period of time. As a parent, you can also seek a protective order with the assistance of the state of Texas. 

A court order, if obtained by the state of Texas, can order that any person who is an alleged perpetrator of abuse be removed from your home. Additionally, any parent who is to remain in the home will then have to make a sufficient effort to monitor the home and report any attempt of the alleged perpetrator to return to the residence. 

An order that requires certain persons to participate in a Child Protective Services Investigation

Child Protective Services can also petition a court for an order that requires certain people to participate in the services that the Department of Family and Protective Services provides. Parents, legal guardians and other members of your child’s household are people that are commonly included in these types of orders. The end goal of this participation is to reduce the likelihood that your child will be abused or neglected in the future. 

Protective Orders can be sought on behalf of your child

There are two types of protective orders that are related to Child Protective Services cases in Texas. The first is called a temporary ex parte protective order. These are protective orders that can be used to direct a person to do or refrain from doing certain acts. They can also exclude a perpetrator from a residence under certain circumstances. 

The key word here is “temporary.” These orders are effective for up to twenty days. A re-application can allow the twenty-day period to be re-upped for an additional twenty days. The positive part of a temporary ex-parte protective order is that the order can be obtained without notifying the person against whom the order is sought, and a court hearing is not needed to have the order issued. 

There are also protective orders available that are not temporary. These type of protective orders may be issued by a court if the court finds that family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future. A court, in conjunction with a protective order, may prohibit a party from removing a child who is a member of the family or household from the possession of a person named in that order. It can also order the person found to have committed family violence or perform acts specified by the court that the court determines are necessary or appropriate to prevent or reduce the likelihood of family violence, including the completion of programs that are intended to educate persons about the risks of abuse.

These protective orders go further and prohibit persons found to have committed family violence from committing future acts of violence, communicating directly or indirectly with any person protected by the order or a member of the household of a person protected by the order. Finally, protective orders will typically bar the person from going to or near the residence or place of employment of a person protected by the order or near the school of a child protected by the order. 

A protective order is effective for a period of time that cannot exceed two years. A copy of the protective order must be served upon the person against whom the order has been issued and then delivered to law enforcement and the child’s school. 

Child Protective Services can request that you relinquish custody of your child

As opposed to removing a child from your home, Child Protective Services can, in certain circumstances, request that a court order you to relinquish custody of your child in order so that the child can receive specialized care in conjunction with the reports of abuse or neglect that have been made. 

This is done typically in situations where you and your family have not been able to obtain mental health services due to financial constraints. The State is not able to make abuse or neglect finding against you or your spouse in these situations when your child has been diagnosed with having a severe emotional disturbance. Before Child Protective Services can ask a court to take possession of your child in order to seek this care, they must talk to you about becoming joint conservators of the child. You would share custody of your child with the Department of Family and Protective Services in order so that your child can obtain the care that he or she needs.

More legal options that Child Protective Services can request will be discussed in tomorrow’s blog

If you are interested in learning more about what options Child Protective Services has at its disposal to protect your child, then please return to our blog tomorrow. We will continue right where we left off today. 

In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we covered today, 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 here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to ask questions and receive feedback about your particular circumstances. 

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