Child Protective Services

Children have the right to grow up in an environment that is free from physical, sexual or psychological abuse or neglect. Most parents provide loving homes where their children are nurtured and their needs are met. However, it is a sad fact that some children are neglected and subjected to abuse and maltreatment.

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines child abuse as “[a]ny recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” In addition to the federal statute to protect children, each state has an office of Child Protective Services (CPS) dedicated to upholding the state and federal laws that protect children from exploitation, abuse and neglect. When these agencies receive a report of neglect or abuse, they must investigate the family and determine the veracity of the accusations. Their investigation may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Interviews with the child (if the child is verbal)
  • Interviews with any siblings, spouses, extended family members, teachers or other adults who regularly interact with the child
  • Physical and/or psychological examination of the child by medical professionals

Families Face Abuse Allegations

The primary duty of CPS personnel is to protect children. Ideally, this can be accomplished by social services working with at-risk families to provide parents with the resources and information for them to safely parent their children in their own homes. But CPS caseworkers may go a step further and remove a child from the home if they believe that the child is in danger.

What many don’t realize is that loving parents struggling to do the best for their children can also become targets of Child Protective Services. Mandated reporters like teachers or medical professionals may misinterpret the bumps, bruises and even broken bones on the body of an active, rambunctious child and infer that they may have been inflicted by parents or caregivers. Once an investigation is launched, CPS workers can get warrants from the courts to empower the police to forcefully remove a child from the parents’ care and place them in the custody of the state until the matter is satisfactorily resolved.

Quite naturally, the placement of a child in the foster care system can be very traumatic to both the child and the parents. This sad scenario has even played out between couples going through divorces and acrimonious custody battles. One spouse may falsely allege that the other has molested or otherwise abused one or more of their children in order to bolster their position as the only parent fit to have custody or even to prevent the other parent from having unsupervised visitation with his or her own children.

Effects of Child Abuse Allegations

Parents facing these kinds of accusations and allegations should always take them very seriously. The consequences are severe and far-reaching, as even the hint of impropriety surrounding a CPS investigation may be enough to disqualify a parent from ever working with children or becoming a foster parent. The damage to one’s personal and professional reputation can be difficult or impossible to repair. These allegations can also affect the custody arrangements of the accused parent’s other children, or even children that he or she may have in the future.

When parents are charged with neglecting or abusing their children and the children are taken from them and placed with foster parents, the parents may be so emotionally shattered by the turn of events that they are not thinking clearly or acting wisely. It is always a good idea to seek the counsel of a family law attorney who routinely goes to bat for parents in court against CPS. The attorney can explain the process to them and outline the steps they need to take to be reunified with their children.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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