Imagine this scenario: you are at work or at home waiting on your child to get home from school, and someone contacts you and identifies themselves as a CPS social worker and they want to speak with you regarding your child and some recent allegations. You are confused and concerned. Unfortunately, many parents face this every day.
In fact, Child Protective Services (CPS) has two different avenues of becoming involved when there are allegations of child abuse (typically classified as sexual, emotional, or physical), neglect (defined as lack of supervision, lack of medical or emotional care, etc), or if CPS suspects that there is alcohol or drug abuse occurring within your home. The two different avenues of involvement are as follows:
(1) You receive notice from CPS that there is an allegation of child abuse within your home. The CPS worker who has been assigned to your case will contact you and will begin the investigation. The CPS worker can even go around you and first visit your children at school or daycare and can discuss the allegations with them and determine if there are any real and apparent issues that are consistent with the initial report. Then, the CPS worker can choose to come to your home and interview you there. The CPS investigator is looking for evidence of abuse or neglect or for evidence that abuse or neglect may occur within the foreseeable future. More specifically, the caseworker is looking for an immediate risk of serious harm.
At the close of its initial investigation, which must be conducted within 30 days of the report, a conclusion will be made by the CPS worker whether the allegations are true. If at the conclusion of the initial investigation the allegations are deemed as being true, then CPS can seek to remove your child or they can seek to make further plans for your family to ensure that the children are protected. This might entail what CPS terms as the Safety & Evaluation Plan and can include such recommendations like parents will attend counseling, the CPS worker will make random home visits, the children are not to be around a certain person, etc. This may not result in a court case at all.
Also, it's important to note that you may become involved in a custody dispute after the CPS investigation is initiated. Maybe the other parent is seeking to modify the custody orders that were initially rendered by the Court, and CPS' involvement now plays a huge role. Your attorney at Guest & Gray, P.C. will be able to discuss this with you and let you know what to expect.
(2) CPS decides to take administrative action when it receives a report of alleged child abuse or neglect and removes the child from the home or places limitations on your visitation during the pendency of the investigation.
At this point, you have a very short time frame between having your child or children removed from your home and from when you will be in front of the judge. Once your child is removed, you will receive a written report and petition from CPS. The petition will name CPS as the petitioner and you as the respondent and will list out the allegations of why you shouldn't have custody of your child. You will need to be sure of when your court date is, because as mentioned, it will come up quickly.
Potentially, there are 8 hearings that are involved in these cases which are: emergency hearing, adversarial hearing, initial permanency planning team meeting, status hearing, initial permanency hearing, additional permanency planning team meetings, permanency hearing, and final hearing.
First, the emergency hearing is held within 1 business day of CPS' filing of its petition and it can be ex parte, which means that the Court can hold this hearing without you. At this hearing, CPS' attorney has the opportunity to present the allegations and issues to the judge and the judge will determine whether or not to keep the children in CPS' care until the adversarial hearing.
Second, the adversarial hearing is held no later than the 14th day after the child or children are removed from your home. At this hearing, the Court will determine whether the removal of your child was proper. If the Court concludes that the removal was proper, the Court will also put temporary orders into place while the case is pending to ensure the safety of the child. At this point, your child could remain in CPS' care, or the child can be placed with a family member, friend, or other person whom the Court finds suitable. This hearing is incredibly important for you as the parent or guardian of the child because, first of all, you're there. So, the Court gives you the opportunity (and most importantly, your attorney) to explain the situation from your perspective. In particular, you will no longer having the Court solely consider CPS' perspective at this point, because up until now, this is the Court's only source of information. This is your child, so come prepared for the judge to know the real circumstances.
Third, if your case gets this far, you'll have the permanency planning team meetings which are initially held within 30 to 45 days from the removal of your child from your home. It's important to note that while this isn't an actual court hearing, this is a crucial step in your case as all of the parties will be present. In fact, you should bring all of your supportive family members who are also concerned for your child's safety. Here, what CPS terms as the "service plan" will be established which is what everyone can agree on as best for the child.
Fourth, after the service plan is established, a status hearing is held. Time frame for this is at least within 60 days of the child being placed in CPS' care temporarily. At this hearing, the Court discusses the service plan with you and makes sure you understand what it is and what you must do to comply.
The next and fifth step is the permanency hearing. Unfortunately, there may be multiple, but we know that there's at least one in the CPS process. There, the Court will go over the service plan and it will have been a while so the Court will be able to determine who is complying and who isn't and determine whether any changes need to be made to the Plan. Also, the Court could determine at this time that your child would be returned to you until final hearing or continue with either CPS having the child or another guardian. Here, the final hearing date will be announced by the judge. As stated, if the Court determines that other permanency hearings are necessary, then those dates will be announced as well.
Lastly, you will have the final hearing or trial. Here, all the parties are allowed to present testimony and evidence that go to your child's best interest. After this is presented, the Court will make a determination on who will have custody of your child or, how the Court terms it, who will be conservator of your child. The conservator may be you, a person who's been named guardian of your child during the pendency of the case, or it could be CPS.
Regardless of how CPS becomes involved in your family, it is essential that you contact your attorney at Guest & Gray to ensure that your parental rights are protected. In fact, the quicker that you act, the more you ensure that your rights are protected and you ensure that your attorney is there to guide you through the process. That is, a CPS case can be quite difficult and there are several issues that may arise during its pendency. It can be a convoluted process that people frequently become discouraged over. As you've seen through this brief summary of the steps, it can be turn into a long, drawn out process. However, your attorney may be able to stop the process at a particular point in proving that the allegations are false or that removal of your child was unnecessary. The key is to be informed and contact your attorney at any indication that CPS is investigating your family.