Child Protective Services (CPS) is a branch of the social services department that is responsible for protecting children and minors from abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect within the family. Dealing with CPS can be very stressful for parents because there is always a risk of having their child taken away. Before that happens, there are several procedures CPS has to take prior to reaching that outcome. To reduce the stress in these situations, parents can learn more about how the process works, and understand the grounds for child removal.

How Is CPS Notified of Child Abuse or Neglect?

A case may be unanimously reported to CPS by anyone who suspects that a child is in danger from abuse or neglect within the family. Depending on which part of California the report has been filed, each county will have slight differences in how they operate their response system. In most places, accept reports of child abuse or neglect through a 24-hour hotline. There are generally, there will be two types of response times available:

  • Report of immediate danger
    Reports that describe the child as being an immediate danger will receive an immediate response which will require an in-person response within 24 hours
  • Report of children that might be at potential risks
    Reports that describe a concern to a child being in potential risk but not immediate danger will receive an in-person response within ten calendar days

What is Child Abuse?

In California, the law defines child abuse as:

  • A child sustaining physical injuries that are not caused by accidents
  • A child is mistreated by willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment (such as hitting a child)
  • A child is abused or exploited sexually
  • A child is neglected by a parent or caretaker who fails to provide necessary needs such as food, shelter, supervision, and medical care

Overview of How CPS Cases Are Processed

Once a claim has been filed and accepted by CPS, caseworkers will;

  • Look over the information
  • Conduct an investigation, if needed
  • Determine whether the situation poses an immediate danger to the child
  • If required, CPS will intervene to protect the child from danger
  • Apply support services for the families and decide if the child needs further support from other services such as counseling or medical care

What Happens After The CPS Investigation Process?

The investigation process is one of the most important steps in the procedure. It is usually after the investigation process that CPS will determine the outcome of the case. Generally, the case can proceed in one of four ways.

  • First, no action might be taken, in other words, the case will simply be closed.
    This happens when caseworkers cannot find any evidence to support the allegations during the investigation process.
  • Second, caseworkers may refer you to voluntary services. These are free services that are sometimes provided by other agencies to help parents rehabilitate the issues of the allegation and safely take care of their child.
  • Third, if evidence shows that the allegations are true, but the child can still safely live with the parents, then children are still under their parents’ care. However, caseworkers will file a petition with a court to protect the child.
  • Lastly, in cases with serious allegations may be determined that parents are entirely unfit to have a child in their care. Thus, caseworkers will take the child away from their families. Children that are taken by CPS are either placed with the other parent (if separated), with a relative, or in a foster home.

How Does CPS Determine Child Removal?

A child’s safety concern is the number one priority when it comes to dealing with CPS cases. Safety concerns may include;

  • Physical or sexual abuse by a family member
  • Failure to protect the child from danger
  • Failure to provide proper care and supervision for a child
  • Failure to provide the child with necessary needs such as food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment

Whether a child will be removed from a family will determine the severity of the allegations. However, removing a child from their home is the last thing CPS caseworkers will try to do. Oftentimes, this is the last resort. CPS usually attempts to resolve the issues through other alternative measures, before demanding child removal.

CPS uses “Structured Decision-Making Tools (SDM)” to help evaluate these safety concerns during the investigation process. SDM is an evidence-based practice that makes sure caseworkers are evaluating the case on the same standards. This means that every worker is assessing each case by using the same types of items and evidence. It also roughly specifies how each item will leave to specific decisions in regards to the child’s safety.

When Does CPS Remove a Child?

Evidence collected during the investigation will either prove or disprove the allegations. Usually, child removal will happen when there is a reason for the caseworker to believe that the home presents an unsafe environment for the child, and the child is in imminent danger. Another reason is when that is reasonable cause that there is no safety measure provided for the child. Before the removal process, CPS is required to make reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for removal.

Courts Must Review Child Removal

Even if a caseworker honestly believes that a child must be removed from danger, CPS cannot just decide to take a child away. For a removal to be lawful, caseworkers must receive a court order. This can be done by providing sufficient proof to show the court that;

  • Without removal, there will be persistent danger of physical or sexual abuse at home
  • There is evidence that the child has been sexually abused
  • Allowing the child to return home will be contrary to the child’s welfare

If there is no court order, by the time of the removal, then it must be reviewed by the court within the next business day. If CPS is unable to obtain the court order within three days, they must return the child.

Unlawful Removal Of a Child

The U.S. Supreme Court holds that parents have fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the companionship, care, and management of their children. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, Familial Association Rights ensures that families are able to live together without governmental interference except in an emergency. Essentially, parents have the constitutional right to resist state invention in the family. Before the removal of a child, CPS is required to;

  • Conduct a reasonable investigation
  • Provide a reason to prove that a child is in imminent danger
  • Attempt to resolve the danger through alternative measures
  • Obtain a warrant before removing a child

It is unlawful to remove a child if CPS fails to meet these requirements. If a parent believes their child has been removed unlawfully due to false accusations of abuse and neglect, or an error has been made, they should immediately contact an attorney.

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