What Child Protective Services Can & Cannot Do

The end of a marriage can bring about things you didn’t expect. One of the most surprising ones you may experience is dealing with Child Protective Services, otherwise known as the CPS.

Suddenly being greeted by representatives from Child Protective Services is not a pleasant experience. The reason they’ve paid a visit to your home could be to take your child away from you. Obviously, you want nothing to do with that.

The question is: What can you do when Child Protective Services shows up at your front door? That’s one of the many important questions we’ll be answering in this article. You’ll also learn how to respond if you have a dispute with CPS.

Read on to learn more about Child Protective Services and your rights when dealing with them.

The Mission of Child Protective Services

It’s important to understand that Child Protective Services is not your enemy.

The Department of Child Safety, the Arizona equivalent of CPS, states that their guiding core principles are:

  • Ensuring the safety of all Arizona children
  • Ensuring all Arizona children live in safe environments with loving families
  • Ensuring all Arizona children have an opportunity to thrive with the support of their families and communities

Those are all worthy core principles to abide by, and you won’t find any loving parent who disagrees with them. The values espoused by the Department of Child Safety are similarly admirable.

Their values include:

  • Accountability and Transparency
  • Child-Centered Care
  • Cultural Responsiveness
  • Family-Focused Work
  • Professional Excellence
  • Promoting Partnerships within Communities
  • Proper and Attentive Engagement

As a parent and resident of Arizona, knowing that the Department of Child Safety is present to keep a watchful eye over the youngest citizens of the state is a comforting thought. The services they provide are essential in every sense of the word.

child protective services investigation

Why Is Child Protective Services Investigating You?

Child Protective Services is on the side of protecting children and their best interests. Whether you’re a parent or not, you want to be on the same side as them. That’s why suddenly finding yourself on the other end of a CPS investigation can be legitimately frightening.

But why does that happen? Why are they investigating you even when you are doing nothing that comes close to endangering your child? There are some possible explanations.

A Former Spouse’s Attempt to Gain Custody

Following a divorce that involves children, the court will usually name a custodial parent and a non-custodial parent. If they name you as the custodial parent, that means your children will primarily be in your care.

However, that doesn’t mean that your former spouse will stop trying to gain custody of the children the two of you brought into the world. Your former spouse may file false reports with the Department of Child Safety to gain primary custody of the kids while also trying to paint you in a negative light.

It can be infuriating when that happens. Unfortunately, authorities cannot rule it out, especially in cases where the two sides had an acrimonious parting.

Another Party’s Attempt to Gain Custody

It’s not only your former spouse who may attempt to take custody away from you using Child Protective Services. Your former in-laws and other family members may attempt that same tactic.

Whether the attempt is successful or not, having the eyes of CPS trained on you can be stressful. To be clear, though, you are not supposed to use Child Protective Services in custody battles.

Mistaken Allegations

One other reason why you may suddenly find yourself investigated by Arizona’s Department of Child Safety could be due to a mistaken assumption.

Let’s say, for example, that your child’s teacher saw that he/she has a busted lip. Now, you may already know that the busted lip occurred when your child fell accidentally while running around in your yard. However, the teacher who is unaware of that may mistake it for a potential sign of abuse.

On one hand, you can appreciate the fact that the teacher is keeping a close eye on your child. On the other, you may not appreciate that you get investigated due to an unfortunate misunderstanding.

What Happens After a Report Is Filed with Child Protective Services?

The government takes claims about potential child abuse seriously. That’s reflected in how Child Protective Services operates.

You should know that all reports sent to CPS are investigated. It doesn’t matter whether the claim was made up or inaccurate, they will get involved and attempt to get to the bottom of things.

Upon receiving a report, the officials tasked with investigating child abuse claims will look to either screen in or screen out that report. So, what does that mean?

According to StopItNow.org, a specific report may be screened out when the department determines that there is not enough information to further an investigation. The department may also screen out a report if the claim does not constitute child abuse or neglect.

Child Protective Services may also decide to screen out a report if they determine it to be inaccurate or false.

If the officials believe that there is potential merit to the report, they will proceed further and screen in the investigation. They may decide to conduct a preliminary investigation to gather additional information.

How Do Child Protective Services Investigate Reports?

Investigating the claims made to Child Protective Services is a multi-stage process. Let’s discuss what those stages are in greater detail in the next section.

Establish Contact with the Reporting Source

The investigation carried out by Arizona’s Department of Child Safety starts with contacting the reporting source. Notably, they usually withhold the identity of the reporting source throughout the investigation.

Examine Old Documents Related to the Case if They Exist

The Department will then start trying to ascertain the legitimacy of the claim. To do so, they will look for any previous reports filed to them involving the child and the alleged perpetrator of abuse.

Interview and/or Observe the Child Involved in the Case

After that, an investigator from the Department may pay a visit to the child and conduct an interview. They may also opt to observe the child at first.

An important thing to note here if you’re the parent is that you cannot stop an investigator from the Department of Child Safety from conducting that interview. Per Arizona law, the investigator does not need to receive any written consent from the parent, guardian, or custodian of the child before the interview can take place.

Furthermore, they can exclude you and anyone else watching over the child from the interview. Again, the investigator can conduct the interview even if you do not approve of it.

Now, you need to remember that you do not need to give the investigator permission to enter your home. If you do not want the visit to occur at that point, you can inform the investigator and request to reschedule. Since you did not give the investigator permission to enter your home, they will need to leave.

The only time an investigator can enter your home without your consent is if they have a court order authorizing them to do so. Usually, those court orders are only handed down when it’s believed that the child is in immediate danger. If there is no merit to the allegations against you, it’s unlikely that the investigator will be carrying a court order.

Interview the Potential Perpetrator

Once the interview with the child ends, the investigator will likely talk to you. The questions asked during this interview may be personal. You do not need to answer the questions or even provide any response if you don’t want to.

If you do decide to talk, remember they can use the things you say if the case goes to trial. It would be wise to consult with a lawyer first before you speak to the investigator.

Interview the Other People in the Household

The investigator from the Department of Child Safety may also decide to interview the other members of your household. They may even speak to other young kids you have.

It’s worth reiterating that they can use the things said during this interview in court. The other members of your household can also choose not to respond to the questions.

Continue the Investigation

The investigation will continue after the interviews. They may review court orders if they are available, and they may use other investigative tools.

What Happens After the Investigation?

With the investigation conducted, the case may now go in one of two directions.

First, on finding there is no merit to the claim, they may decide to close the case. They will tell the parent, guardian, or custodian that the case is closed.

However, if the investigator believes that there is abuse possibly taking place, he/she will move to substantiate the allegation. The findings will then be documented and eventually reviewed by a supervisor at the Department of Child Safety and the Protective Services Review Team.

They will tell the parent, guardian, or custodian about the results of the investigation. From there, they may take further action.

The Department of Child Safety will look into other ways to keep the child protected before resorting to taking him/her away from a family.

The ways they may attempt to secure the safety of the child include:

  • Providing the family with essential supplies if a lack of resources is the reason for the neglect
  • Asking the perpetrator of abuse to leave if the other members of the household can protect the child
  • Helping the protective parent, guardian, or custodian leave the household of the person responsible for the abuse

If those options are not feasible, they may place the child in a voluntary placement agreement.

The child may also go into temporary custody. This temporary custody can last up to 12 hours. During that time, the child may be examined by a doctor and/or a psychologist.

Child Protective Services are allowed under the law to take your children away if their investigation has determined that abuse has taken place. After that, they will likely file a lawsuit against you.

In all likelihood, a hearing will take place. Once that hearing is over, the court will decide if the child should be returned to your custody, entrusted to a different family member, or remain in the custody of Child Protective Services.

Reach out to a lawyer before that hearing takes place so you can make a more compelling case and disprove the allegations of abuse and neglect.

What to Do if You Want to Lodge a Complaint against Child Protective Services

There may be cases where the investigator for the Department of Child Safety overstepped their bounds a bit. Upon finding that out, you will probably and understandably not be thrilled about what happened.

You should know that filing a complaint is an option.

To resolve a complaint, you have with the Department of Child Safety, you must start with contacting the investigator who worked on your case. Call the investigator in question or leave a message. If you receive no response after two days, you can also send an email.

Be sure to record all your attempts to communicate with the investigator.

If there is still no response, you can then elevate your concerns to a supervisor in the Department of Child Safety.

Contacting the Department of Child Safety of the Ombudsman is your last resort if both the investigator and supervisor fail to respond to your attempts to communicate.

The prospect of losing your child due to a false or misguided claim of abuse made against you is terrifying and traumatizing. You cannot allow those claims to go unchallenged, considering the damage they may do to your family and your reputation.

Work with us at the Schill Law Group if you’ve been falsely accused of being an abusive parent. Reach out to us today and learn more about the different ways we can help.