Please read on to learn the answers to frequently asked questions regarding Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations in Texas and the concerns that families have in general.
You need to cooperate. If you don't cooperate, CPS will infer that you are attempting to hide something. Try to get some information from CPS about what they wish to discuss with you. Chances are, you probably know why they want to talk to you. When you are interviewed, consult a lawyer and have legal counsel with you. If you do not have time to obtain counsel and must participate in the interview, follow these guidelines.
- Be helpful and polite
- Show concern for your children
- Listen more than you speak
- Ask for exact information from CPS, they will often use phrases such as "we have concerns" or "it has been alleged" or "we believe".
- DO NOT GUESS about your answers to any CPS questions.
- DO NOT GUESS about what other people knew or didn't know.
- DO NOT SAY the following, "he would never do such a thing" "I don't believe that happened" "my child is telling a lie".
- Be able to clearly explain how your home is a safe home for your children.
- Be able to provide positive references who have frequent contact with you and your children.
- Do not lose your temper.
- At the end of the conversation ask the CPS worker to summarize her discussion with you, her findings, any actions she is considering taking and her reasons for taking those actions.
2. Do I need to have an attorney with me whenever I meet with CPS?
CPS workers do not like lawyers. Unfortunately, a lawyer who is not familiar with CPS and takes the wrong approach in dealing with CPS may do you more harm than good. An experienced CPS lawyer can help to clarify the issues, present your case in a positive manner, and minimize the risk of your children being taken into foster care.
3. CPS wants me to bring my children to their offices for a meeting. What should I do?
This is a setup. NEVER, EVER take your children to CPS offices without your lawyer right beside you. This tactic is used by CPS to get you to surrender the children to them at there offices instead of them going to the effort of removing the children from your home. To summarize, take your children with you to CPS and chances are you'll be going home alone.
4. CPS wants me to sign a "Safety Plan" or they are going to take my children into foster care. What should I do?
A Safety Plan tells you that you have to follow certain rules to keep your children with you in the home. You must ask yourself whether you can follow the Safety Plan - if you can't then you are at risk of having your children removed. Many children are removed each year because CPS interpreted the Safety Plan differently than the parent did.
5. CPS wants me to separate from my husband or wife and to keep my children away from him/her. What should I do?
Just do it. CPS always believes that sexual abuse has occurred, no matter what the facts and logic suggest, and that children always know what they are talking about. The problem is that if you question any of the facts, your child will be out of your home. It is a difficult situation, but you must ALWAYS choose your child over your spouse.
6. CPS has done an "Emergency Removal" and placed my children into foster care. What should I do?
Tell the CPS worker what your child likes and doesn't like, and inform her of any medications your child might be taking or other special needs he or she might have. If the CPS worker feels threatened by you or senses that you are "unstable" it will only hurt your chances of getting your child home. Try to make arrangements to get your child some of his toys, clothing, and other possessions that will make him feel more secure while in foster care.
7. I received legal papers telling me I have a court hearing to determine temporary custody of my children. What should I do?
Time is critical. You are going to have a Court hearing within 14 days of the date your child was removed from your possession. At the hearing, the Court will determine whether there is a continuing danger to your child in your home. CPS will have their investigators, lay doctors, witnesses and police officers ready to testify. Who will testify on your behalf? Who will present your case to the Court? Do you know how to cross-examine a witness or how to object to improper testimony? You need legal representation. If you lack time to hire an attorney, ask the Judge for an additional two weeks to hire one. Your child will have to stay in foster care, but many times it is better to wait an additional two weeks and be truly prepared for court rather than rushing in unprepared. Several things can happen at the initial or "14 day hearing." Your child can be returned to your care (this rarely happens); CPS can take steps to determine whether a relative would be able to care for the child, or your child can continue in foster care for a period of at least 60 days. A CPS case can be won or lost at this point. Without aggressive representation at the 14 day hearing, there is a very real chance that your child will spend months in foster care - - possibly without justification.
8. CPS is telling me my children have been sexually abused. What should I do?
Please do not say, "I don't believe it" or "that's not true" or "she tells stories" or anything that gives CPS the thought that you don't believe sexual abuse has occurred. Show genuine concern. Ask, "what can I do to make sure I am providing my child with a safe home?" Ask the CPS worker questions. Seek detailed answers. Who is the alleged abuser? When did the abuse occur? How many times has the abuse occurred? Exactly what did occur? (you need to get over your embarrassment and ask for graphic details about what happened). You must ask yourself if you knew of the sexual abuse or had any hint that it was taking place. What has your child told CPS? Unless you convince CPS that you knew nothing about the sexual abuse and that you are able to protect the child from the abuser, your child is going to be placed outside your home.
9. CPS is telling me my children have been neglected. What should I do?
Try to get CPS to agree to leave the children with you while you participate in parenting classes or other services CPS recommends. You may have to agree to do other things like place the children in daycare, or change your work hours. Remember, you are doing these things to keep your children with you.
10. CPS is telling me my children have been physically abused. What should I do?
Physical abuse usually occurs in one of two instances: 1. The case of the baby who is shaken or beaten by an adult. Cases involving injuries babies and young children are the most difficult mainly because the victim is unable to speak. You need to convince CPS that you didn't injure your child and that your home is safe. This is very difficult. CPS wants to know who injured the child and until someone comes forward with an explanation, the child is not going home. Do not make up stories, for instance, "he rolled off the bed." Do not cover-up if you know who hurt the child-- unless the person you are protecting is more important to you than your child. Your attorney may suggest you take a lie-detector test. You must attempt to obtain legal counsel. 2. The case of improper physical discipline of a child. In the case of improper discipline, you have a chance of keeping your child at home, but you are going to have to participate in parenting classes and counseling. Of course, it will depend too on the type of injuries sustained by the child and if there appears to be a long-standing pattern of improper physical discipline-- for example the use of extension cords to administer spankings is abuse and may result in removal of the child.
11. CPS tells me I don't need a lawyer at the emergency court hearing. Is this true?
You need a lawyer. CPS is represented by the District Attorney. Your children will have their own attorney. You will not be successful representing yourself. Also, don't fall for the line, "this is only temporary." Many a termination case starts with such a representation.
12. I am embarrassed to tell my family about my CPS case. What should I do?
If your family can help you in any way, financial, emotional, or as a temporary placement for your children, tell them. A CPS case could be the most serious legal matter in your life.
13. CPS wants me to take a drug test. What should I do?
You know whether you will pass. If you will pass, sure, take the test. If you know you won't pass, consult your lawyer. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to refuse to take the test, or admit to your drug usage. These are critical decisions and you need a professional to advise you. The main thing is to get clean! Find someone in your family to care for the children while you go through a inpatient program if you are using illegal drugs. The longer you remain in denial about your problem, the worse things will get. Remember, in a CPS case, you have one year to get your act together. It's better to start early rather than waiting until you are out of time to save your family.
14. CPS has my children. Will I ever get them back?
You will have to persuade the child's lawyer that the child belongs with you. You will attempt to discredit as much of the CPS case as possible. You have to be appropriate with your child in the visits.
15. CPS wants me to do a "Service Plan." What does this mean?
The Service Plan consists of a list of things for you to do in order to have any hope of getting your children home. But, understand that the Service Plan is not a contract and CPS doesn't have to return your children just because you completed your service plan. Typically, you will be asked to take a psychological evaluation, do counseling and parenting classes. You may also be asked to take random drug tests, participate in anger management, or sex offender's counseling.
16. What is a "Guardian Ad Litem?".
The Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney who has been appointed by the Court to make an independent recommendation to the Court about what arrangement will be in your child's best interest. You will want to make sure the ad litem is doing his or her job and not merely following CPS recommendations. You will want to work to obtain a favorable recommendation from the ad litem.
17. Will the Court appoint me an attorney if I can not afford to hire one?
When CPS files to terminate you, they have had around 6 months to build their case against you and there is little your court-appointed attorney can do to erase the damage of what has already happened during the case. The legal services organizations do not take CPS cases either because they are so specialized and time-consuming.
A version of this column originally appeared in www.lawtolife.com.