Take the accusation seriously
Parents are routinely accused of ridiculous things: trying to sell their children to relatives for drug money; molesting a child in the living room during a family party; beating a child with a baseball bat – without leaving bruises. Yes, those are real calls to Child Protection Services (CPS) and all of there were taken as true by investigators. No matter how absurd or unbelievable the caseworker sounds, you must understand that she is serious and likely “knows” that you are guilty. Even if she doesn’ t flat out say that she’ s there to take the children, she is perhaps intent on doing just that.
Ask what the charges are
Most of the time, the caseworker wants to keep you in the dark as to what you have been accused of, despite being required by federal and state law to tell you details of the accusation at her first contact with you. Don’t settle for the answer of “abuse” or “neglect”. Those are categories, not details. You are entitled to know what specific acts you are accused of committing.
Take down their information
Identify the social workers or police officers at your door. Ask them for their business cards and write down their badge numbers. Take your time getting a pen and paper, but leave them outside unless they can prove they have a warrant or court order. Don’t let them in. Even if they start threatening you.
Shut up immediately
Do not – I repeat DO NOT – submit to a CPS interrogation before talking to your attorney. It is natural that innocent parents who have nothing to hide want to explain everything so that a reasonable person can see that there’s no problem here. But CPS agents are not reasonable. To them, the accusation IS the evidence against you. That caseworker is there to find evidence to support what she already believes to be true – that you abused your child.
If you say nothing to them, you have taken away their greatest weapon, which is their ability to twist your words.
Find an attorney who has experience fighting CPS
As soon as you realize your family is being investigated, get an attorney. The sooner an experienced attorney enters the picture, the sooner he can put a stop to abusive CPS tactics. Please note that I said experience in FIGHTING CPS. Many attorneys – if not most – believe their role is to find out what CPS wants and make sure their clients do it. That way often leads to disaster and the loss of your children.
Hostility toward the investigator is considered evidence of guilt. Your perfectly natural angry reaction to being accused of harming your child will be used as evidence of an abusive personality. This is where an attorney can be a valuable asset. She can stand up to the bully on your behalf.
Never let them in your home
Under no circumstances should you let any government agent in your home unless she has a court order. Ask to see the warrant or order, because the CPS worker may lie and say she has one when she doesn’t. When she doesn’t have one, politely but firmly tell her that she will have to stay outside until she gets one. If she claims it’s an emergency, make her tell you what it is. Call her bluff – if it were a true emergency, she would not be asking – she’d be there with armed police officers, forcing her way in. Do not even open the door to let her look at the children.
There is no compromise on this. There are no exceptions. If you invite a caseworker into your home, you have waived your fourth amendment protection. And if the caseworker is intent on taking your children, She will find something in your home to justify it. This is a guarantee.
Understand that you may be threatened. You may be lied to. She may tell you that the 4th amendment doesn’ t apply to caseworkers. That is a lie. She may tell you that she doesn’ t need a warrant. That is a lie. She may tell you that she’ll return with armed police officers. And she very well may. But that changes nothing. Even a man with a gun on your porch doesn’t change the fact that she has no right to enter your home.
If officers do force their way in, do not physically resist. Make your objections clear, but stand aside. There’s no point in getting arrested, or risking injury or death. Your children need you fighting for them, and you can’t do that from a jail cell or hospital. Demand that you not be separated from your children, and that your children be interrogated only with your attorney present. This demand will likely be ignored, but demand it anyway. The fact that they ignored you may become important in later court proceedings.
Have a doctor examine your child
If the accusation is one of physical abuse, have your doctor give your child a thorough physical exam. Ask him to write a letter stating that no bruises, marks, or health concerns were found on the child that would create suspicion of child abuse or neglect. Go to a doctor you trust. Never never never go to a doctor recommended by CPS.
Get friends and family involved in the fight
Gather names of friends and relatives who are willing and able to care for your children if CPS takes them. They are required by law to place with family or friends before considering a foster care child warehouse, but will often ignore that law if you let them. Don’t let them. If your children must spend time away from you, it’s far better that they do so with people you know and trust than in an abusive foster facility.
Also, get your friends, family, co-workers, pastor – anyone who has seen you parenting your child – to write a letter on your behalf, stating what a good parent you are. CPS investigators are required to take such information into consideration, and it’s much harder for them to illegally snatch your child without cause when they know a crowd is watching them.
Never admit guilt
Never admit to anything. Even if CPS has taken your children and offers to give them back if you do (they won’t), it would be immoral to do so if you truly haven’t done anything. Even if you did make a momentary mistake, admitting so may be a quick way to jail and to lose your kids forever.
CPS agents are not above lying to you to prove you guilty of something, so don’t trust what they say. They won’t understand. They won’t give you a break. They will use anything you say against you, and even make stuff up. Don’t make it easy on them.
Chad Foster is a trusted family law and divorce lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.