Every state maintains an agency that is authorized to receive and investigate reports of alleged child abuse and child neglect. In addition, the agency (which may be called Child Protective Services (CPS), Children Youth & Families, or the Department of Social Services), is also supposed to provide monitoring services for children at risk. Generally, anyone can file a complaint alleging child abuse or neglect although some professionals, including physicians, social workers, and teachers, must file a report if they suspect that abuse is occurring. If a complaint is made, CPS will open an investigation. The investigator will presume the allegations in the complaint are true; generally, CPS is obligated to investigate all complaints. The investigation is intended to be a fact-finding process, with the goal of determining the validity of the allegations and assessing the safety of the children involved.
How CPS Operates
Within 24 hours of receiving a suspected complaint involving child abuse or child neglect, an investigation is initiated. CPS thereafter has a limited time (from 30 to 60 days, depending on the state) to make a full investigative report. The CPS investigator is charged with seeking out and finding evidence of abuse or neglect. The investigator will conduct interviews with the child and the child’s caretakers, observe the child and his or her environment, and review all relevant information (including police reports and medical reports) with the goal of protecting the child. In addition, the investigator has to write an evaluation describing whether there is a risk of neglect or abuse in the future and outlining what type of care would be necessary to protect the children. If the CPS worker finds any evidence of abuse or neglect, the report will indicate that the child requires services and describe the kinds of services needed.
No Evidence of Child Abuse or Neglect
In the event an investigator can find no credible evidence of child abuse or child mistreatment, the complaint will be dismissed or otherwise categorized as unfounded and may be sealed. Note that the investigator’s job is to find evidence of abuse or mistreatment. They are looking for any evidence to support an allegation of abuse, neglect, or mistreatment of the child. Often, the standard of proof required to support such a finding is not high: some states look for only a preponderance of the evidence (that is, that it was more likely than not that abuse occurred) or substantial evidence. A CPS case worker can initiate a court action based on his or her investigation, and a child can be placed in protective custody.
Dealing with Child Protective Services
An investigation by a child protection agency can be disruptive at best and intrusive and life-altering at worst. If you are contacted by Child Protective Services, the best way to protect yourself and your children is to immediately contact a law firm that handles CPS investigations and prosecutions.
Elliot Schlissel is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of New York. His law firm, with offices in Nassau County, Suffolk County and Queens County, practices in family law & divorce, criminal law, personal injury matters, bankruptcy, and foreclosure defense.