Before you do anything, start taking notes of everything that happens immediately following your initial contact with CPS. Note names, times, dates and subjects of any conversation. Call an experienced family law attorney who understands the CPS system and can assist you in the process.
In past years, the thought of calling Child Protective Services (CPS) on a neighbor was far less common. Things have changed. Today we even have labels for parenting styles. Are you a “free range” or a “helicopter” parent? When we all knew our neighbors well, there was a level of trust among neighbors and an accepted culture of neighborhood parenting. Today, people from various cultures and traditions move from place to place and too many of us no longer know the family next door. For illustrative purposes in this article about working with CPS, I assume a hypothetical scenario as follows.
The New Neighbors
Donna is a recently divorced single mother living in the Dallas area, in the same home she has owned for 15 years. Donna works as the operations manager for a fire and water restoration company and has sole custody of her three boys. Bob and Ann and their daughter just moved to Texas from Seattle for Bob’s job in information technology. Ann works from home and writes for parenting magazines. Donna baked cookies for Bob and Ann and wrote a nice card welcoming them to the neighborhood. She met Bob and Ann briefly to exchange pleasantries and Ann explained she and her daughter could not eat the cookies unless they were gluten free.
Ann quickly grew concerned by the “wild boys” next door who rode their bikes in the street without helmets. Ann wrote an article about a parent’s dilemmas when they observe out-of-control children and are concerned. One day Ann slipped a copy of the article (no note attached) in Donna’s mailbox. Donna thought it was one of her friends poking fun at helicopter parents, an inside joke among a few of them who grew up in the neighborhood drinking from garden hoses and turned out “just fine.”
Not receiving any reaction from Donna, Ann was perturbed and still refused to wave at Donna. One day Donna’s boys for some reason, were riding their bikes on the sidewalk, where they had set up little jumps using door stops. Donna’s middle son wiped out on his bike and fell into Ann’s daughter in the process. Ann called 911 and put out an urgent notice on relevant social media sites to notify local parents of the incident and extremely dangerous conditions in the neighborhood.
When Donna arrived home close to dusk she was met by a furious neighbor. Ann told her how her daughter was injured in a violent accident and was taken by emergency first responders for an MRI and critical observation. Donna was polite and handled the situation as well as she could. “Great, the neighbor is a nut,” Donna thought, knowing the little girl next door had nothing more than a grass stain on her little sun dress.
The Doorbell Rings
Donna met her first CPS investigator one Sunday morning and learned someone reporter her for child abuse or neglect. The complaint stated allegations that Donna was a never-home absentee parent, her children ran wild and created a dangerous living environment and harmed other children. Thinking the CPS caseworker had the wrong house, Donna started to put the puzzle pieces together. Donna invited the caseworker inside, offered her a water or coffee and kolache. Donna apologized for the any misunderstanding over her “nutty” neighbor and started telling her own life story, about the divorce, and how happy she is that her kids are exceeding so well in school, sports and socially.
Did Donna act correctly? Some may say Donna might be a bit na?ve for being too open with the caseworker, who was only intended to make contact and start the required process of investigating every complaint. Her attorney told Donna that she offered too much information, which led to more questions during the process, which could have been quicker and easier had Donna not offered too much information. Although the complaint against Donna was ultimately unfounded and dismissed, there will be a permanent record of contact with CPS. Years later, Donna’s newly remarried ex-husband, used the neighborhood rumors about the CPS case to discredit Donna when he sought custody of one of the boys.
Visits By CPS Caseworkers
State law requires a CPS caseworker investigate any reports of abuse or neglect. A caseworker will interview any children identified in a complaint as at risk. The recorded interview may take place at home, at school or another appropriate location. Within 24 hours of the interview the caseworker should notify the parent of the interview that took place and any allegations as they discuss the report of any injuries, safety concerns, abuse or neglect of the child. The CPS caseworker will also have researched any criminal information about the people alleged to be involved.
The CPS caseworker may find that there is no finding of abuse, neglect or safety concerns and the investigation is complete and closed. They may also organize a family meeting to discuss concerns or any safety plans to ensure a child will not be at risk. In cases where abuse and neglect is found and the safety of a child is at risk, the caseworker may remove the child from the custody of the parents and action may be taken against the abuser. In certain cases, a child may be placed with relatives or foster homes.
Contact A Family Law Attorney
Before you do anything, start taking notes of everything that happens immediately following your initial contact with CPS. Note names, times, dates and subjects of any conversation. Call an experienced family law attorney who understands the CPS system and can assist you in the process. Your attorney will be able to explain the rules and procedures a CPS caseworker must follow as well as your rights to seek additional review of the caseworker’s findings. Should the CPS caseworker seek to remove a child from your care, a removal hearing will take place within 14 days and at which time your lawyer may represent you in court.
To learn more about CPS cases, contact Scroggins Law Group.
*Mark L. Scroggins is *board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Unless otherwise noted, other attorneys are not *board-certified.
**Super Lawyers (a Thomson Reuters service, awarded to Mark Scroggins 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021)
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