By: Leslie Barrows
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What can a parent or guardian expect when CPS investigates a report of child abuse and neglect?
Child abuse and neglect are serious concerns and it is the job of Child Protective Services (“CPS”) to respond to complaints alleging abuse and neglect. CPS is the administrative agency of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (“DFPS”). “The mission of The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is to protect children, the elderly, and people with disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation by involving clients, families, and communities.[i]” DFPS not only investigates matters involving children, but also reports of abuse of people 65 years and older and adults with disabilities.
We often hear about CPS on the news when something bad happens to a child, often involving a dangerous incident. For example, a recent news story reported the arrest of a mother in Wichita Falls, Texas, for endangering her child. It was reported that the mother left her four-month-old child in her car seat, in her Chevrolet Impala, with the engine running, for close to 45 minutes while shopping at Kohl’s department store. The woman was “arrested, and charged with Abandoning or Endangering a Child. CPS was called, and the child was released to another family member.[ii]”
While many cases are reported to CPS, only a handful of them involve adverse action against parents.
CPS has a duty under Texas state law, to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect by parents or other members of a family or household. The woman who left her child in the car might be convicted of Abandoning or Endangering a Child, in criminal court, but her child might not necessarily be removed from her care. CPS could investigate and make a finding that the mother made a big mistake that she is not likely to do again, and the fact she left the car running and may have had the air conditioning on, could be a substantial factor in how CPS might decide what, if any action to take against the mother.
Investigations of abuse or neglect require a CPS caseworker to interview the child at the subject of the complaint. Interviews are recorded, either audio or video, at home, school or an otherwise reasonable location. Within 24 hours of an interview, the caseworker should inform the parent or guardian of their interview and nature of any allegations. When the caseworker discusses their report, the parent or guardian has an opportunity to explain any injuries, risk of abuse or safety concerns. A criminal history is also conducted to investigate any individuals involved in an abuse or neglect investigation.[iii]
CPS investigations lead to reports that indicate any action to be taken to protect the safety of a child.
CPS caseworkers may take additional steps, authorized by law, depending on the nature of the case. Most investigations are completed within 30 days. The caseworker’s confidential (not public) report records the determination, made by the caseworker and their supervisor, whether a child was abused or neglected, at risk of future abuse and neglect or is otherwise safe. CPS may elect to order Family Team Meetings, develop Safety Plans, require a Parental Child Safety Placement agreement, or remove a child from the care of the parent, guardian or family member involved in the case.
Consulting with and having a lawyer represent an individual involved in a CPS investigation is a good idea, and may be done at any time during an investigation. A family law attorney knowledgeable and skilled in CPS matters can help explain the law involved in the investigation process and as well help make an accurate record of the facts and circumstances involved in the specific case. Attorneys at The Barrows Firm receive calls and questions about CPS investigations and are able to answer additional questions and represent parents and guardians who may be the subject of an investigation.
The Barrows Firm in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, represents families with legal issues in the area of divorce and family law, as well as juvenile, criminal, probate law and estate planning. You may make an appointment to meet with an attorney in the Fort Worth or Trophy Club office by contacting The Barrows Firm through the website. The Barrows Firm is also active on social media, on Twitter and Facebook.
[iii] Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, A Parent’s Guide to a Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigation.