10 Things You Should do if CPS or DCFS is Investigating You
1: Take any accusations seriously.
No matter how absurd or unbelievable the CPS/DCFS social worker’s claim(s) may seem, please understand that the social worker is dead serious, and most likely presumes – no… most likely BELIEVES that you are guilty as accused. Even if the social worker doesn’t admit that s/he is at your home to take your children, often times that IS EXACTLY why they are there. It is our experience, over 20+ years, that the majority of CPS social workers develop a cynical view of life and assume that you are UTTERLY GUILTY until YOU PROVE that you are not: the opposite of the way the “justice system” is supposed to operate.
2: Ask what the accusations and charges are.
Most typically, the CPS/DCFS social worker wants to keep you from knowing exactly what you have been accused of — sort of keeping themselves on a “general fishing expedition” — but it is required by state and federal law to tell you the exact details of the accusations at first contact with you. Be wary! Do not settle for the vague and general charges called “neglect” or “abuse.” Neglect and abuse are broad categories – not the legally-required “details” of the accusations or charges! You are entitled to know the “details & specifics” of what you are accused of committing.
3: Say as little as possible. In fact – BE QUIET!
In criminal law it is ALWAYS strongly suggested that you talk to NO ONE but your attorney. Think about it. Virtually ALL CHARGES that CPS or DCFS levels against you are CRIMINAL CHARGES. And while CPS or DCFS is there ONLY to take your kids, the police can and often will show up later for the parents! In fact, open your mouth and tell the CPS investigator just enough to “make their case” and you can start packing an overnight case as the police will be called by CPS who will be at your door to take you away.
Sure, it is totally natural that innocent parents who have nothing to hide will want to explain everything to a CPS social worker because such parents would assume that ANY reasonable person would see that there is nothing wrong going on. But CPS and DCFS social workers are commonly ANYTHING BUT reasonable. They become entrenched in a culture that is uniformly cynical about ALL PARENTS. Frankly, you are presumed guilty by the majority of CPS and DCFS agents. The exhausted, over-worked social worker who just fought the crowded freeways to make it to your home is there on a mission. That mission is most often to find evidence to support what the social worker already believes to be true – that you abused your child just as the neighbor, relative or anonymous tipster claimed.
If you don’t talk to them –just as you are always told to never voluntarily talk with the police if they are accusing you of a crime– you take their power away. They will not be able to use your own admissions, statements, and your very words against you. For example” “Have you ever spanked your toddler?” Do you really think there is a good answer to that question? The majority of CPS and DCFS social workers abhor most any form of parental punishment.
4: The minute you become aware that your family is being investigated, YOU MUST find an attorney who has experience in fighting CPS or DCFS.
An attorney EXPERIENCED in CPS and DCFS cases and courts is mandatory! Juvenile Dependency courts are worlds unto themselves. Your most seasoned and experienced lawyers when first stepping foot into a Juvenile Dependency courtroom are totally dumb struct as if they stepped into It’s a Small World at Disneyland. Most lawyers –even experienced Family Law attorneys– who are not experienced with CPS/DCFS mistakenly think that it is their job (as it would be in any other court setting) to find out what CPS or DCFS wants and then communicate all the details to their clients. Shockingly, doing exactly that often leads to total disaster and the loss of your children.
5: Be courteous and polite to CPS social workers & investigators.
Let’s face it, when a “government investigator” –without any advanced notice– knocks insistently on your door, well-dressed, looking all official with a county badge; exuding the authority of the government; is well-prepared, PRIMED and READY to level accusations of child abuse or neglect against you: most people would be SHOCKED! If you’re human you’d also be scared too. As government is getting bigger and bigger every year they are getting more and more powerful and intrusive in the lives of ordinary citizens. We are all a bit nervous and threatened by the power of the state as we witness weekly examples of government power wielded unfairly on Investigative TV News programs and in the lives of our own families and friends.
What could your reaction possibly be to a surprise home-visit from a government agent? No one appreciates surprise visits by any one! Perhaps the dishes are unwashed; maybe you haven’t cleaned house for a day or two; say that there are a collection of beer bottles on the coffee table from the football game the day before; could be that you’re not dressed in appropriate attire as you would be IF EXPECTING guests… So when you are surprised and ACCUSED TO YOUR FACE of child neglect or child abuse it might be natural that you are shocked, defensive, upset, angry and a little hostile. As Homer Simpson would say: “Do’ah!”
Guess what? An angry demeanor toward the CPS social worker or DCFS investigator is considered evidence of your guilt. Your perfectly natural, upset and angry reaction to being accused of harming your child will very OFTEN BE USED as evidence of your violent and abusive personality.
6: Never invite any CPS or DCFS social worker or investigator into your home unless he or she has a warrant or court order.
If a County CPS/DCFS social worker requests that you invite them into your home politely refuse. If he or she insists or suggests that not allowing entry will work against you or will ensure that your children are taken away from you HOLD YOUR GROUND. Politely ask to see their warrant or court order to come into your home. It the CPS social worker or investigator claims to have a warrant, insist on seeing it: in fact they owe you a copy! Why? Would a Social worker lie? YES. Police and government agents often suggest they have a warrant or outright lie and claim to have a warrant when they do not. It makes their task of finding needed evidence against you so much easier! If the CPS/DCFS government agent cannot produce a warrant, firmly but politely tell them that they will have to remain outside until a warrant is presented. They will be annoyed. But you will be far better off – legally. If the agent says it is an EMERGENCY call their bluff. Insist that they explain how it is an emergency and what constitutes an emergency. Typically, in so-called “emergency situations,” the police and the CPS social workers come together and even then it is not necessarily an emergency but a working relationship that some CPS agents have with associates on the police force.
Do not even open the door to allow the CPS agent look into your home to see your children: they can see something that creates an “emergency situation” even if it is not true.
Be FIRM. You should not waiver nor give in to thinking: “What’s the harm?” There is no compromise here: no exception. If you invite a County CPS investigator or a Los Angeles DCFS social worker into your home, you have just waived your Federally-protected fourth amendment constitutional protection. Just like a police detective intent on hauling you to the police station for questioning would love for you to willingly invite them into your home, a CPS social worker who is openly or secretly intent on taking your children from you WILL FIND SOMETHING IN YOUR HOME TO JUSTIFY THE REMOVAL OF YOUR KIDS.
This happens every day all over America and even more often in Southern California where CPS and DCFS agents are the most ruthless social workers anywhere. The bar for removal is “whatever it needs to be” as far as the social worker is concerned. A legal prescription in your bathroom cabinet, a beer bottle on the coffee table, a kitchen knife not in the drawer, a broken window, a back door without a deadbolt, a missing smoke detector, a swimming pool without its own secondary safety fence: whatever might be necessary to fill out the paperwork to justify removal. If this particular social worker set out to take your child, allowing them innocently into your house will ensure that your child is taken from you. You now have a year or a lifetime of HELL before you.
7: Demand that CPS tape any interrogation of your child.
Subjective reports of what a child said or did not say is hardly ever adequate. Ask that any interrogation be recorded. You could produce your own recorder (as a back-up) just in case the CPS or DCFS investigator “loses” their tape between the interrogation and a subsequent court hearing where you might have “wished” that you had such a tape.
8: If you are accused of physical abuse, immediately have your doctor give your child a thorough physical exam.
Ask your doctor to write a letter stating that there are no bruises or injuries observed, nor any other health-related issues that would raise any concern or suspicion of child abuse or neglect. Obviously go to a doctor whom you trust. If a CPS or DCFS social worker suggests a doctor for you, or suggests that they know where you can see a doctor at NO CHARGE (as attractive as that may be), NEVER visit with a doctor recommended by CPS. What you may not know is that these doctors are a regular part of the CPS system and they are commonly called as expert-testimony witnesses by CPS as a witness against the parents. They are paid handsomely for their testimony.
9: Create a list of relatives and friends who are willing and able to care for your children if CPS takes them.
If your children are removed from your home, or the court is demanding that your children must soon leave your home for some period of time it is always better that your children are taken in by relatives or friends. Are you aware that children placed in foster care are sometimes abused or mistreated by people working the foster care system for a “pay check?” There is the flip side to that where some truly loving foster parents sometimes become smitten with your kids and start their own campaign with the court and petition for adoption! Having your kids in foster care is simply adding one more level of stress and complexity to your plate.
10: Never admit guilt, even if pressured by a CPS social worker to do so in exchange for leniency or getting your kids back.
If you are innocent of neglect or abuse why would you buckle to the pressure of a CPS agent’s demands to have you admit to false accusations? If you are accused or charged with neglect because someone has informed the county CPS system that you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the social worker who is investigating those accusations may have good-reason to be concerned for your kids’ safety.
Even if you privately agree that maybe you drink too often or too much that does not mean that you have to incriminate yourself in this investigation. Bite your tongue. Admit NOTHING! Even if you recognize that you have a problem that needs to be addressed this is not your DOCTOR; this is not your PRIEST; this is not your LAWYER. Wrong person! Wrong time! This person is not here to HEP YOU. This person is here to collect evidence to support the accusations made against you and to TAKE YOUR KIDS. Period.
Do not admit guilt. Instead, work with your doctor, pastor or even your private CPS defense attorney to find the professional help you might need need (and professional help that the courts will recognize – no sense paying twice because a treatment program is not court-approved). By NOT ADMITTING GUILT, you can then honestly work on any issues you have and work with the court to keep your kids under your roof or to get your kids returned to you when appropriate.
By mistakenly thinking that admitting guilt to a social worker is justified is often a fast trip to jail – removing many of the options that you need right now to get your life in order. In any potentially-criminal situation NEVER voluntarily do anything until you contact an attorney: preferably a compassionate and understanding attorney who works with parents, kids and the Juvenile Dependency Courts on a daily basis. They will offer you frank advice that will be better than unnecessarily sitting locked behind bars. CPS social workers and investigators are not above lying to you to encourage you to confess or admit to something that you might not even be guilty of – just to get you arrested and your kids in their control.
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