If you’re like most people, then you wouldn’t know what to do if CPS is investigating you. After all, the stakes are high. Every parent or guardian is scared of losing their kids, and Child Protective Services can take advantage of that fear.
If you’re ever involved with a CPS investigation, then keep these pointers in mind to come out the other side with a happy, healthy kid still at home:
- CPS might rely on scare tactics to encourage parents to cooperate. Know your legal rights before letting the agency or its representatives do anything.
- CPS employees may treat their investigations as “guilty until proven innocent.”
- You can get a lawyer to fight this battle for you. CPS investigations are typically not a DIY project – especially with your children at risk.
Be Calm and Polite During CPS Investigations
CPS can be a “guilty until proven innocent” government organization. After all, it’s the safest philosophy to take when minors’ safety and welfare are at risk: Better to be overprotective with every child, than let an at-risk child be harmed.
Therefore, agents may try to find something to prove their claim, starting from your very first interaction.
Although accusations or insinuations about your parenting will upset you, remain calm and polite. Anger is a totally natural and understandable reaction. (We’d feel the same way!)
A caseworker, though, might see anger as an admission of guilt. That perception will put the entire investigation off on the wrong foot.
Don’t brush off the accusation, either, even if it’s not true. Any legal case involving a child is serious.
Know Your Legal Rights in a CPS Investigation
During the CPS investigation process in Maryland, you have a right to:
- Know specific details about your accusation.
- Refuse to speak to CPS or allow them to tour your home.
- Retain legal counsel for a CPS investigation – even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
Ask CPS About the Specific Accusation
In the past, CPS caseworkers have avoided volunteering complete information about the initial accusation. Despite being required by federal law to tell you details the first time they speak with you about an accusation, they may try to keep you in the dark as much as possible.
If you ask what you’re being investigated for, they may try to say “abuse.” Abuse is a broad category of offenses, not a specific accusation. In this situation, you will have to (politely) demand more case information.
If you feel uncomfortable forcing the issue, remember: You have every legal right to that information.
Refuse to Speak Further or Tour Your Home With CPS
It might seem like this point to refuse cooperation may contradict our previous advice of being as polite as possible. However, it’s all about knowing your rights.
Our nation’s legal system is set up to benefit the accused, so take advantage of that right. Demand information about your case, and then refuse to talk to them.
Politely state that you will not be speaking with them any further, and certainly not before you speak to your lawyer. Then, show them out or hang up the phone.
Again, you should:
- NOT allow them to interrogate you, even if you think you did nothing wrong.
- NOT let them tour your home. CPS agents can be nitpicky, and they may try to find something – anything – to support their case.
… At least, we would not advise these actions without you consulting with your paid and retained lawyer for the CPS investigation.
Your Right to Legal Counsel and Defense During CPS Investigations – Even When Innocent
After an unannounced visit from CPS, your next step should be to immediately retain lawyers experienced in CPS investigations.
See, before anything else happens, the caseworker needs a court order – and you need a lawyer that knows how to deal with CPS. That way, you don’t worry about saying the wrong thing or making the wrong decision. Your lawyer will know what to do.
An experienced CPS investigation lawyer knows their tactics – and more importantly, they know how to fight them. They are used to taking on long cases, which a CPS case can be. Good lawyers will truly enforce our nation’s “innocent until proven guilty” creed, and force CPS to offer proper documentation and support.
If you pick the wrong lawyer who isn’t used to long cases and just wants it over with quickly, they may simply encourage you to give the caseworker whatever they want.
You have a right to a lawyer who will not concede your rights to CPS, just because it’s “easier.”
Do Not Automatically Trust CPS Investigators or Caseworkers
After the initial CPS visit that alerts you to the open investigation against your family, it may be in your interest to:
- Record everything.
- Don’t leave them alone with your child.
- Don’t automatically trust any professionals they may recommend.
Record Your Interactions With CPS
You have the right to record anything that you want, in specific circumstances. In Maryland, for example, it is unlawful to record someone without consent from both parties.
So, you will have to ask permission to record CPS. However, do not let that keep you from trying to record everything that happens with your caseworker. If they consent to recording, then bring your own tape recorder in case the caseworker “forgets” theirs.
Don’t Leave Your Child Alone With CPS
While a CPS investigator can interrogate any person in the home, the investigator generally has no right to interrogate your child alone.
A caseworker may try to tell you otherwise, or that doing so “helps your case,” but it’s not necessarily true.
CPS investigators have been known to ignore this law.
Depending on the situation, they may come out of the interview saying whatever they can to support their story. If the child denies the account, then there is very little stopping an unethical CPS worker from saying that the parents coerced the child.
Consider Ignoring CPS Recommendations and Find Your Own Experts
Finally, think twice before your or your child see any doctor or therapist that CPS may recommend.
Of course, you should follow their instructions and fulfill the requirements of the investigation, pending your lawyer’s advice. However, doing so doesn’t require you to go to a CPS-sponsored expert.
For example, if facing a child abuse accusation, then certainly take your child to a doctor for an evaluation. The doctor can then write a letter to CPS stating they could find no marks of abuse.
But, make sure it is a doctor that you trust. Your child’s pediatrician or long-standing family doctor will be able to provide a complete medical context for CPS. No random recommendation would be able to do that.
The possibility always exists for CPS takes advantage of people who don’t know the system. Do not automatically believe what they say, do your own research, and make sure the CPS investigator has the proper forms before proceeding with anything that they do.
If you’re still not sure what to do when CPS is investigating you, take a breath. The Law Office of James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, LLC can help.