At The Marshall Defense Firm, we have helped many clients navigate the confusing rules and regulations that govern a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation. No parent ever plans on being investigated by CPS, and with so much potentially at stake, it is important to have someone in your corner who understands what the law requires and can ensure you and your family are protected. While some believe a lawyer is only needed after a child has been removed from the home or a dependency petition has been filed, if The Marshall Defense Firm is involved in your case from the very beginning we will work hard to avoid those outcomes.
An immediate note: You have only 30 days to appeal a founded CPS determination. If you miss this deadline, your right to appeal will be lost forever.
What is Child Protective Services?
CPS is an agency within Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). CPS’s job is to protect children from child abuse and neglect. Its responsibilities include assessing risk and investigating reports of child abuse or neglect, providing assistance in fixing conditions that endanger children, referring cases to law enforcement, and placing children outside of the home and petitioning courts when necessary to ensure the safety of children.
What triggers a CPS investigation?
CPS must assess or investigate all reports of alleged child abuse or neglect that meet the definitions of child abuse or neglect. Some of these reports may be made anonymously.
When CPS receives a report (a “referral,” in CPS’s lingo), it decides whether the report is too serious to be handled on a track called Family Assessment Response (FAR). The other track is the investigation track.
How does CPS respond to reports that meet the definition of abuse or neglect?
CPS will first complete a risk assessment. If there is a moderate to high risk, CPS must then meet with the child said to have been abused or neglected and attempt to meet the alleged perpetrator. They may meet with the child outside of the presence of their parent or guardian without notification or consent and may also take photographs of the child. Unless the child objects, CPS must make reasonable efforts to have a third party at the interview as long as the person does not jeopardize the investigation. CPS will attempt to complete investigations within 45 days and must complete them within 90 days unless the police or prosecuting attorney determine that a longer investigation period is necessary.
What should you do if you are the subject of a CPS investigation?
In most cases, CPS will contact you early in the process if you are under investigation for abuse or neglect and ask to speak with you, members of your family, anyone who may have information about the allegations, and possibly the child (though, remember, the child can be interviewed without notice or permission). Although the focus of a CPS investigation is the safety of the child, the information gathered may be provided to the police for the initiation of a criminal investigation against you. However, it’s also possible that a criminal investigation is what prompted CPS to become involved. Either way, any statements you make to a CPS investigator could be used as evidence in a criminal case. This is one of the reasons it is important to have one of our experienced attorneys representing your interests. We can communicate with CPS on your behalf and reduce the chances that your words or actions are misconstrued and used against you.
It is natural to feel angry and defensive, especially if the accusations against you have no merit, but it is important to be courteous to CPS investigators and politely inform them you will need to speak with your lawyer before anything further happens. You should take any accusations against you seriously. Being innocent is no guarantee that CPS will see that a parent has done nothing wrong. The safest course is to engage an attorney experienced in dealing with CPS.
Under what circumstances can CPS remove a child from the home?
If CPS determines that there is a risk of serious harm, a child may be placed outside of the home for up to 72 hours (plus intervening weekends and holidays). Before removing a child from the home, one of the following must be in place:
- A court order; or
- A law enforcement officer places the child in protective custody; or
- A physician or hospital administrator detains a child and CPS assumes custody until a court hearing; or
- A voluntary placement agreement signed by the child’s parent or legal guardian
CPS must attempt to place the child with a relative unless there is reasonable cause to believe that this would jeopardize the child or hinder efforts to reunite the parent and child.
If CPS wishes for the child to remain out of the home beyond 72 hours and the parent or legal guardian does not agree to this, CPS must file a dependency petition with the juvenile court, and a hearing must be held within the 72-hour window.
What happens if CPS determines that a claim of abuse or neglect is “founded?”
If CPS determines a claim is “founded” it means that they have determined it is more likely than not that child abuse or neglect did occur. This result has a few consequences:
- Information in the records from the investigation may be considered in later investigations or proceedings regarding child protection or child custody.
- Founded CPS findings may be considered in determining if the alleged perpetrator may obtain certain jobs or licenses involving caring for children or vulnerable adults.
You have the option to appeal the determination made by CPS. We will submit a written request on your behalf asking CPS to reconsider its finding. CPS management staff not involved in the initial decision will review records and reports from the investigation along with any additional information we submit with the request for review. If this review results in CPS changing the determination to “unfounded,” the department’s records will be corrected to show the changed finding, which is great news for you. If CPS declines to change its “founded” determination, we have another 30 days to appeal that decision through a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ) in the Office of Administrative Hearings. If either party disagrees with the ALJ’s decision, they can request a court review. We will fight for you and your family as long as you want us to continue to fight or until we’ve exhausted all options.
What it’s Like to Have The Marshall Defense Firm in Your Corner
Respect and compassion are the foundation of our work. We take time to get to know you and your case. It’s where our fierce advocacy for you begins.
Then there’s our experience. For decades we have represented clients in CPS investigations and appeals. From that and our on-going study of the law, medicine, and psychology involved in these investigations, we have exceptional skill.
And we pool that skill. We work as a team. We know that no one lawyer, no matter how brilliant, will have all the good ideas for your case.
Our final ingredient is relentless investigation and preparation. When we defend you, we are ready to do it well.