It can be overwhelming to hear that you are being investigated for abuse or neglect of your children. Everything you say and do can be documented, so keep in mind:
- You have the right to know why you are being investigated. Ask what the allegations are before answering any questions. You may be able to talk to a lawyer before talking to CPS too.
Every state has an agency that is responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect by parents or caregivers. This agency has different names. In most states, it is called child protective services (CPS), but is also called the Department for Children & Family Services (DCFS), Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), or something else. The people who work for CPS are usually called caseworkers. Even though CPS claims to help families and children, we know that being investigated by CPS is almost always traumatizing and harmful to families. So even though we use the term CPS on our site because it is what most people know, we often call this the family policing system.
If CPS contacts you, either by calling you or going to your home, this means there is an open investigation because someone contacted CPS saying that they suspect your child(ren) are being abused or neglected. Anyone can make a call, including people who are called “mandated reporters.” This includes health care providers, teachers, social workers, therapists, police, and child care providers.
Because everything you say and do can be documented as part of their investigation, it is important to be careful about what you say to CPS. You can ask what the allegations (what CPS says happened) are before you answer any questions or give CPS any information. And since many different caseworkers might contact you, you should always ask for their full name, title, and phone number so you can keep track of every conversation.
You can refuse to speak to CPS or to let them into your home, but that does not mean the case will end. CPS may decide to start a case against you in court if you don’t talk to them. They may also contact other people in your and your children’s lives for more information.
If you decide to talk to CPS, you only need to answer questions about the allegations they are investigating. You do not need to talk about private medical or mental health information that is unrelated to the allegations. And you do not need to share information about your immigration status with CPS. You also have the right to speak to CPS in the language that you prefer. You can ask for an interpreter before answering any questions.
If you think CPS is contacting you because of something that happened during your pregnancy, including an abortion, call 844-868-2812 or contact us through our secure online form to speak with a lawyer.
If your child(ren) is old enough to speak, CPS will probably try to talk to your child(ren) alone. They may do this when they first come to your home, or they may go to your child(ren)’s school. You can refuse to let your child(ren) be interviewed by CPS, but CPS may decide to start a case against you in court so they can get a court order that lets them talk to your child without your permission.
This means that CPS has decided to start an abuse or neglect case against you in court. Ask the caseworker when you need to be in court (day and time) and where the court is located. In almost every state, you have the right to a lawyer when you first appear in court. You can also hire a lawyer to represent you in the case. To find a lawyer, you can Google “family defense attorney in [insert your city/county].”
If CPS removes or threatens to remove your child(ren), this means that they are going to place them in foster care. This can happen either before or during an investigation, and CPS may or may not tell you before the removal.
You can ask that your child(ren) be placed with family or a loved one until you go to court. Be sure to have your family member or loved one’s full name, phone number, address, and birthday. Make sure to speak with your family member or loved one in advance so that they know to expect a call or home visit from CPS.
Some states allow CPS to remove child(ren) without going to court first, but CPS must go to court as soon as possible to start an abuse or neglect case. Ask the caseworker when you need to be in court (day and time) and where the court is located.
In almost every state, you have the right to a lawyer when you first appear in court. You can also hire a lawyer to represent you in the case. To find a lawyer, you can Google “family defense attorney in [insert your city/county].”
Unless there is a court order from a judge saying that you must do certain services, such as parenting classes, drug testing, mental health services, or others, then you do not have to do them. But sometimes, doing the services CPS suggests can end the investigation sooner. And sometimes, refusing to do services can mean that CPS will go to court to start an abuse or neglect case against you.
If you choose to do services, CPS may ask you to sign a form that lets them talk to your service provider. You do not have to sign this form and you can decide what information to share with CPS. But, again, not signing this form could mean CPS will go to court.
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