2020 was the year where parents went out of their way to protect their children. The pandemic caused us to come face to face, many of us for the first time, with the reality that the world poses threats to our children daily. One of the more disheartening aspects of this pandemic has been that the threats in our daily lives are ones that we cannot always see. Throughout the past ten months, we have seen evidence of the pandemic and its harmful effects even though the virus itself is invisible to the naked eye. With that said, our parents have gone to extremes in some situations to make sure our children are put in situations where we can be kept safe.
A Child Protective Services case can sometimes feel like the opposite of a viral pandemic. I say this because with a CPS case the potentially harmful impacts of the case may not be felt for months to come but you can see in here its immediate impacts all around you. The most notable impact of a CPS case for many parents is the removal of your children from your home. I can only imagine how disconcerting and worrying it would be to have your child wake up in your home that morning and by the afternoon he or she would be gone in the custody of the state of Texas.
I don't tell you these things to worry you but to cause you to understand just how important a CPS case can be to your future in that of your family. Make no mistake, all family law cases are important period child custody case revolves around your future rights and duties as they pertain to your kids. A divorce does as well in addition to including aspects of your financial life. The common thread between all of these types of family law cases is that relationships are the central theme to each. The relationships with your family and with your children specifically can be impacted fatally due to any one of these kinds of cases.
Suppose that you how Ben contacted on the phone by a person who says they are from CPS. Or, you received a phone call from a school counselor or assistant principal telling you that your child was having some problems in school in that Child Protective Services has been contacted by them regarding those problems. Where would you go from there? Who would you call for assistance and help? Would you know how to best proceed to keep your children safe and also keep your family intact during a potential investigation?
The answer to these questions is that you would probably fall into the same category as many of us when it comes to a CPS investigation. The fact is that CPS does not go out of its way to advertise what it does for families in Texas. The Department of Family and Protective Services fulfills a very specific role in our society in that they aim to protect vulnerable people in our state especially children at risk adults. it happens to many families that quite out of the blue a CPS caseworker could wind up on your doorstep with little or no notice. This is when many people begin to ask the questions that I had posed to you in the prior paragraph. What would you do if you saw an unfamiliar car parked in front of your home and a state employee with the name badge walking up to your driveway?
The beginnings of a Child Protective Services investigation
If CPS begins an investigation into your family if normal investigation in case will be opened where a caseworker is assigned to your family. That caseworker is a person who works for CPS whose job it is to collect information from families in an attempt to learn whether or not abuse or neglect of a child has a curd. When CPS receives information about potential acts of abuse or neglect they operate off of the limited information provided to them by an anonymous Reporter. From there, the caseworker or investigator must attempt to obtain evidence that would substantiate these reports of abuse or neglect.
The caseworker who comes to you at your home will seek to speak to both you and your children. Even if the report of abuse or neglect involves just one of your children, the CPS caseworker will likely seek to talk to all of your children and any adult who lives in your home, as well. I should note at this point that a caseworker is usually also known as an investigator and these are terms that I will use interchangeably throughout today's blog post. Understandably, the investigator will ask you and your children about the information contained in the report previously made to CPS.
It is up to you as to whether or not you want to participate in the investigation and allow your child to be interviewed. Unless a court order is obtained naming the state as the temporary managing conservator of your child, you hold all the cards as to whether or not to allow your child to be interviewed so long as your child is in the home with you. Note that if CPS comes to your home and you are not there, they can seek entry to your home from any person who looks to be over the age of 16. So long as that person gives the caseworker permission to come into the home for an inspection of the homemaker as well as an interview.
Another thing to keep in mind, regarding a potential interview of your child, is that CPS can interview your child without your permission at their school. This is what I was alluding to at the beginning of today's blog posts when I mentioned that a school counselor or vice-principal may contact you to let you know that CPS had reached out to them regarding the report of abuse or neglect of your child. A reporter's identity will remain anonymous throughout the process so it is unlikely you will ever formerly learn who made the report of abuse or neglect to the agency.
Furthermore, you can expect the CPS caseworker to ask for a list of people who regularly come into your home including unrelated adults who live in the home. The state of Texas will then run background checks on these people and do a criminal history search of anyone who is an adult and that comes into contact with your child regularly. Depending on the information provided to CPS the investigation into your family may be very brief or more elongated. If the report made does not provide sufficient details of the abuse or neglect and little information is provided subsequently through an investigation the agency may have no choice but to close down the investigation due to lack of evidence.
On the other hand, if CPS determines that greater diligence must be paid to your case then a more thorough investigation can occur by the Department of Family and Protective Services. All of the above steps that I outlined previously: interviews of all relevant parties including yourself, a walkthrough of your home, as well as the implementation of a safety plan or other risk assessment program can all be instituted. This can all be done outside of the courtroom in may not even require the removal of your child from the home. Unless the risk of harm to your child is so significant and so immediate that CPS teams it unsafe for your child to remain in your home, your child will likely remain in your house so long as you cooperate with their investigation.
What is an interview with your child going to look like?
One of the more disheartening and worrying aspects of a CPS interview with your child is that the interview can occur outside of your home. Where did the interview takes place at your child's school or eventually at a CPS facility the worrying part of this process is that you have no control over what the CPS investigator or interview asks of your child. Furthermore, you are probably worried that your child will be ill-prepared to speak with an adult about subjects that may be very sensitive. Depending on what your child says to the interviewer your case may become a lot more difficult for you and your attorney down the line.
However, you may refuse to allow the caseworker to interview the child outside of your presence. With that being said, if a court order is obtained from a judge that gives Child Protective Services permission to interview your child then your say does not matter at that point. It is likely that CPS will record the interview and that recording will be made available to you and your attorney for your review.
What is an interview with you or your family going to look like?
If it is alleged that your child has been the victim of abuse or neglect, then you will likely be contacted to be interviewed. This is true even if you were not the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or neglect. However, as the responsible party for your child's well-being, CPS will want to learn from you what you knew about these alleged acts of neglect or abuse to help you prevent them from occurring In the future. If you agree to be interviewed by CPS you should know in advance that the agency does not have to provide you with legal representation. A court can and should provide you with a lawyer whenever it becomes apparent that your parental rights may be terminated as a result of your case. However, you will not be able to have an attorney provided to you at the interview stage of your case.
Keep in mind, just like they say on television, any information or anything you say to Child Protective Services at this stage in the case can and likely will be used against you in a hearing or trial setting in front of the judge. Whether or not anyone says that you are placed under oath, you should assume that any untruths or misstatements you make to an investigator will eventually be brought to the attention of a judge. You should assume that a judge, law enforcement, or other authoritative body will have access to every interview you grant to CPS and you should therefore choose your words carefully and be as truthful as can be during this stage of your case.
It would be wise, therefore, for you to seek the advice of an experienced CPS attorney at this stage in your case. We have already covered that you will likely not be at a point where the judge could assign you an attorney for your charge but that does not mean that this stage in the case is not incredibly important. Quite the opposite color this is the stage of your case where CPS can either close things out and let your life return to normal or they can dig in deeply and decide to make your life much more difficult for a certain period. If a little guidance from a lawyer could help save you months of heartache then this sounds like a short-term investment that you should look into making.
What happens if you are the person being accused of perpetrating abuse or neglect against your child?
If you find yourself in a position where you are being asked by a CPS investigator to participate in an interview as the person who was accused of committing the abuse is neglect then you should be even more careful about whether or not you choose to do so without the assistance of an attorney. Most importantly, you must know that your participation in an interview like this, absent a court order, is completely voluntary. Therefore, you should be careful about agreeing to interviews when you are ill-equipped to give credible testimony or responses to questions that can sometimes be tricky or purposefully misleading.
What happens after an interview by a CPS caseworker?
What frequently occurs after you are interviewed by CPS is that the caseworker or investigator will ask you for a list of people who frequently come into contact with your child. This list may include extended family, friends, caregivers, and other persons who are frequently in and out of your home. What happens most of the time is that a simple criminal background search will be conducted and, depending on the results of that check, requests to interview one or all of these persons may be made by the CPS caseworker.
Beyond request to interview other people involved in the life of your child, you may be asked to provide a CPS caseworker with documentation such as medical records, school records immunization records, and records of any mental health treatment that your child may have received. Many times, a CPS caseworker will simply ask you to sign a release from this state that allows the caseworker to obtain these documents without having to 1st go through you. Keep in mind that unless a court requires you to sign a release that you are under no obligation to do so.
If you do sign a release or any documentation that allows CPS to obtain private information for your child via records then you should request a copy for yourself so that your child information may be kept as private as possible. In the alternative, if you end up signing a release and later regret doing so then you are likely able to rescind or take back that release as long as you provide evidence of this in writing to both the requesting agency and the doctor or school.
It is safe to say that the information CPS learns during an investigation and interview stage of your case can determine your future involvement with the agency. If you can provide clear repudiation of the report made to the agency and CPS cannot uncover any evidence of wrongdoing on your behalf or anyone in your household then the investigation may well be closed fairly early. However, if your response is in an interview are cause for concern in the eyes of CPS then you may be involved in a much longer and more drawn-out process with the state.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about the services provided to our clients by our attorneys and staff.