Recently, a blogging colleague of mine dealt with false reports made about her family to CPS.
This is one of my nightmares. CPS knocking on my door, saying, “We’re from children’s services, and we’re here about a call…”
I think this is honestly something we need to talk about. We need to talk about how to handle it if they show up on your doorstep. And when you should (or shouldn’t) call.
Most social workers only want to protect children. Typically, they want to keep the children in the home as much as possible. Studies show that this usually leads to the best outcome, even if the home situation isn’t so great. It’s only if the home situation is actually dangerous (parents are leaving for days at a time, not buying food, getting high, abusing the children physically or sexually) that removal is the better option.
It’s also important to know that some 80% of calls end up being “unsubstantiated” and no actual case is ever opened. This is good news for families who receive an unwarranted visit, but bad news for everyone else. It’s bad news for the person who called because they wanted ‘something done.’ It’s bad news for the agency (who has to waste time checking up on healthy families, instead of families who really need help). It’s bad news for the taxpayers, who are funding the agency.
If you didn’t know, in most states, children’s services are required to follow up on every call they receive. That means they have to send out a social worker to talk to the family once or twice, including interviewing both parents (if there are two) and the children. After the interview, they have to review the case, call references, make a recommendation (that either it’s unfounded and there will be no record of the call, or that an investigation should be opened) and write a final letter. This takes a few hours of their time to complete.
Meanwhile, there are children who really need help who are not getting it, because CPS is too busy with the unwarranted calls they’re getting. Yes, in some cases, these calls were made with good intentions, but other calls were made from spite or a total misunderstanding of what the system is for.
I believe that in extreme cases, the system can do good. But I also believe it is misused and abused by many, both within and outside.
When to Call CPS (and When Not To)
Some believe you should never call CPS. Instead, if you truly believe there is a dangerous situation, call the police to check. If they believe the situation warrants, then they will call CPS to investigate and help the children. When in doubt, this is probably the right call. It’s okay if you suspect a real problem, to call the police and have them check up on someone.
If you do want to call CPS, then these are times that you should consider it:
- Children with clear marks of abuse on a regular basis (not the occasional bruise that could easily be from a child playing)
- Developmentally inappropriate behavior (if combined with other signs)
- Emaciated appearance or other signs of malnourishment
- Children who are home alone or unsupervised for hours at a time (under age 8 – 12)
- Evidence of drug use in parents, especially in front of the kids
- Evidence of alcoholism
- Strong suspicions of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Domestic abuse
- A filthy, unsanitary home (not a ‘little dirty,’ but feces and moldy food everywhere kind of dirty)
- An unsafe living situation
These types of extreme situations are exactly why CPS exists. If you know or suspect that any of these are occurring, you are justified in calling — and should definitely let someone know that the family needs help.
The following situations, however, should NOT result in a call to CPS:
- Custody battles
- To “get back” at someone
- Not vaccinating
- Children playing unsupervised in their own yard
- Spanking (within reason)
- Yelling at children
- Disagreeing with any (legal) parenting choice
- Any accident or one-time situation
- Children dressed in seasonally inappropriate clothing
- Children playing outside naked (under age 5 or in the backyard)
In some of these situations, if you feel concerned (for example, if children in their yard were playing near the street or in another potentially dangerous way), it might be warranted to call the home or knock on the door yourself to express your concern. If you have a concern, but it appears to be a rare situation in an otherwise safe family situation, either address the parents yourself (respectfully) or just mind your own business. If the home is generally safe, then you should not call CPS, even if an occasional situation is unsafe.
(In my colleague’s case, one — true — accusation made against her was that her 8-year-old son was playing in the snow without a coat on. But this was not dangerous. Kids get hot and take off their own coats while playing outside from time to time and an 8-year-old can manage his own coat-wearing. In a safe home, this is a total non-issue.)
What If CPS Shows Up
What do you do if CPS shows up at your door? You hear a knock, and upon answering, find a person wearing a badge, and who says, “Hello, I’m from Children’s Services.”
It’s a nightmare for a lot of parents, that someone would call on them even though they’re well-meaning, loving people. Remember, first and foremost: social workers want to help people who are in trouble, and they have to follow up on every call they receive. If your family has no issues, not much is going to happen. It’s still scary, so here’s what to do.
When someone from children’s services is on your doorstep, step outside the door and close it behind you. Anything they can see in your home will go in their report. That means if there are toys all over the floor, or dirty dishes on the counter, it will get written down. Since the first visit is usually unannounced and you may not be “ready,” step outside. If you have children at home and awake (and there is no other adult present), you may not be able to close the door or you may need to take your children with you. Definitely step outside.
It is not the social worker’s fault that someone called on you. Do not take out any anger or frustration you might feel on them. If you do appear angry, it may help to say, “I’m not angry with you, I know you’re just doing your job. I’m frustrated with the person who called.” Use that if needed — “I know you’re just doing your job.” Speak politely and answer questions briefly. Typically, this initial meeting is just to set up a time for the social worker to meet with your whole family. It should only last a few minutes. When you do have the “real” meeting, be polite then too. This is usually as far as it goes, and it’ll be more likely to end as nothing if you are polite.
Ask for the Official Complaint
Ask for the social worker to read you a copy of the official complaint. This is so you know what is being said about you and you can respond to the accusations. In some cases, the accusations may be entirely untrue. Or, they may be partially true but require explaining. If for any reason you feel that the person who called (they can’t legally tell you who) is harassing you, you do have the right to file a harassment charge with the police, but you have to know who it is. Knowing what the complaint says may let you know who called.
A small note: in most states, good-faith reporters (including mandatory reporters, like teachers) are protected from prosecution in the event that their claim ends up being unsubstantiated. However, people who call in to harass others and abuse the system are not protected, and you can file a restraining order or harassment charge. If it is an ongoing issue, where one person is calling on you repeatedly for things that should not be called about (see above), I’d advise filing a legal complaint. That’s not legal advice, and see a lawyer if you need legal advice. That’s just what I’d do if that happened to me.
Clean Your House
Before the official meeting (CPS has to meet with every member who is living in the home), clean your home well. Do all the dishes, vacuum the floors, dust. Make it as clean as you can. It’s unlikely that your home being disorganized or messy is going to come up as an issue, but don’t take that chance.
In these initial stages, the best thing you can do is cooperate. If you work with them and show them you are a happy, healthy family, they will move on to families who actually need help, because yours doesn’t. If you are cagey, refuse to answer questions, or act ‘weird,’ then they may decide that your family needs to be investigated. Just answer their questions honestly and briefly.
Do not, however, give more information than requested. Don’t talk about struggles that you have (unless you want them to suggest ways they can help; which will mean opening an investigation). Don’t sign forms giving them permission to access your child’s medical records. Just answer simply what is asked.
Get a Lawyer
If, for any reason, the initial meeting with the whole family is not the end of it, and CPS decides to open an official investigation, call a lawyer. Do not agree to their “plans.” Do not agree to anything without a lawyer. I have no personal experience with this and neither do any people that I know personally, but I have heard stories of people who were trying to cooperate and agreed to plans — and ended up with long-term intrusion in their lives and loss of their children for failure to keep up with the plans satisfactorily. Also, I have heard stories about people who ultimately did not have to deal with all these issues because they refused to sign plans. I am not an expert, though, so get yourself a lawyer if an investigation is opened.
I look at CPS as a sometimes necessary intrusion. There are families who truly need CPS — families who do not supervise their children at all, where parents have addiction problems, where there is actual abuse happening. Those families need intervention and those children need protection. There are also a lot of families who get called on who are loving, stable families who may have made a mistake or two, or who have vengeful neighbors or family members.
I hope this is a helpful guide on when (or if) to call CPS. The wrong phone call could ruin a family’s life…and so could a lack of a phone call. Use your best judgment. And if CPS ever shows up at your door, don’t panic. It happens to many families, especially “alternative” ones at some point or another. Cooperate, remain calm, and everything should be okay.
Have you dealt with CPS?
I very much appreciate your true and accurate telling of CPS warranted vs. unwarranted situations. This post, by itself, (hopefully) helps to alter the conversation, as well as the stigma, of CPS’ existence and purpose. 🙂
My ex husband’s psychologist called on me saying I was having our children sexually abused by my cousin. The agency never investigated until our pediatrician called because our son came home with bruises from his dad’s abuse. Because my ex had made a false and unfounded accusations they felt I was just being vindictive. They came and interviewed me and our children ONLY about our home and never asked about their dad. The worker then advised exactly what you said: call the police immediately! Don’t call the agency or go to the doctor. Our son continues to report the abuse, but in our state it is considered discipline. He asked to enroll in martial arts to protect himself. It is very difficult to raise children in this setting.
Oh that’s so hard. 🙁 I’m sorry to hear about your situation.
My husband’s spiteful ex had a friend of hers write a letter to cps on us! I got a call from a social worker on valentine’s day and had to go in a couple days later to talk to the social worker. Nothing ever came of it because the allegations were either completely false or, while partly true, had a good explanation. I knew the ex was involved somehow but didn’t find out until months later that she had talked her friend into writing the letter. Thankfully, that was the one and only time I’ve ever had to deal with cps. I was furious!
While I agree with the first two-thirds of this post whole-heartedly, there are quite a few pieces of advice I differ with under “What if CPS show up.” I worked as a Child Abuse and Neglect Investigator, and I hope I can shed some light on the dreaded social work visit. Of course being polite is always good advice, but not discussing struggles or your real life makes a social worker suspicious.
Same goes with cleaning your house– chances are I’m going to call you first to schedule a time to come to your house, unless I have a very good reason for showing up unannounced (no phone, repeated reports, report indicates that abuse is happening at the moment, or the police are already at your house).
The bit that stood out, though, was “step outside.” If I show up on your doorstep, I’m there to lay eyes on and talk to your children. I’m not there to schedule another meeting. I don’t want to be more intrusive in your life than I have to be, and as you pointed out, I have other children on my caseload who legitimately need help. Although policy and procedure differ from state to state, I would recommend inviting the worker in, regardless of the state of your house (trust me, it has to be REALLY dirty to be a safety risk!) and having an honest discussion with her.
I think it’s different in every state, how it goes. Some have told me the social worker wanted to meet with them immediately, others have said the whole family must be home and if they’re not, they need to schedule another meeting. I agree cooperation is generally best and that by acting weird or cagey that you’re going to arouse suspicion. I suggest walking the line between cooperating and protecting your family’s privacy as much as possible.
What you just wrote us illegal. They have no rights to even look at your child with out a warrant.You do not need to talk to them at all, it’s recommended not to and never allow them in your home without a warrant. Ever. CP/the state gets money for every case open and even more for kidnapping your children.
Christy, you are so right – Rachel is being very disingenuous about what a FAMILY’S RIGHTS are, by law. It doesn’t matter that a parent holding her as a social worker to THE LAW makes her “suspicious.”
In fact, her words make it clear how correct Carlos Morales, former CPS social worker is that social workers are *all* trained in their initial training session to deceive parents and children, coerce them through veiled (or unveiled) threats, and abuse of power (which is almost funny… because if you know your legal rights, you know they have almost NO POWER).
Carlos Morales wrote an excellent, short book, Legally Kidnapped, about how case workers are trained (trained minimal time, but massively horrific), tactics they will use, our rights as families, and how to handle a paid kidnapper at your door (record EVERYTHING!, refuse any discussion unless they consent to a recording if in a consent-to-record state, don’t allow them in your home, and no communication with your children, among other things… all of which are in your legal RIGHT, as they have 1) no named witness if they “prosecute you,” which is against the law and 2) no warrant because they HAVE NO EVIDENCE).
He details several case examples of CPS workers clearly abusing power, including *an entire preschool* of children being taken from *all of their families* because children were asked guided questions in a state of fear, and said things such as “their teachers were doing witchcraft on them,” “teachers were flushing children down the toilet” who were still present at the school, and “some of the teachers flew up above them all and laughed like demons” and other such nonsense. It took YEARS for all charges to be dropped, children to be returned home, and those teachers ALWAYS have that garbage following them now – never able to work with children they loved.
CPS is a monstrous, uncaring crap machine and saying “we care” is one more lie to snake their way into a home to kidnap a child for money. If money was not allowed to be involved, the amount of people that “care” would rapidly dwindle to almost zero. When you are an honest person, you don’t need to tell people, because they will see by your actions and every day words. When you aren’t an adulterer, you don’t need to go around telling people – you’ll just be known as faithful. When you care, you don’t need to keep repeating it – your actions will actually show it. When children in foster care have a *skyrocketed* higher statistic of sexual assault within “care,” physical abuse, teen pregnancy, inability to move forward as an adult (college, job, etc), it’s pretty easy to see the people in charge of it are living very differently than the mantra of “we care!!”
Great post, I’ll be saving this one!
My only experience with CPS is indirectly. Someone in our extended family had a baby a little over a year ago, and everyone on that side of the family agrees that it is not a good situation for the baby. Both parents have some level of mental handicap, and they live in an utterly filthy trailer with a large number of bulldogs that they breed. Their little girl is around a year old now and can’t walk, crawl, sit up unassisted or even babble (though she will bark!). She looks like she is only a few months old, weight-wise. She spends literally all of her time in an exersaucer, and is (literally) completely ignored by her mom (diaper changes, feedings, none of it happens without Dad). Her dad will come home and try to take care of her, but they really just aren’t equipped to be parents. Sadly, the mom (my relative) doesn’t have any desire to be around her daughter at all.
The baby’s grandfather was prepared, but not happy, to take custody of her when CPS got called months ago. CPS has never been inside their home. They had a time scheduled, but the parents simply said their dogs weren’t friendly, so the CPS agent left and never came back. It is a truly depressing situation.
That’s a hard situation. 🙁 That sounds like a family who really *needs* the help, and isn’t getting it.
My word, how awful that CPS did not do their job and press the parents to get the family outside to talk, simply because the dogs weren’t friendly!
Oh, that poor, poor little girl. Praying for the Lord’s work in her life.
Becca, have you tried contacting other agencies, such as Christian agencies, to see if the little girl could be placed with someone who did want her (you said the mother does not, and I’m not sure about the father from what you’ve written)? It sounds like the father might be able to do this *with* a good deal of help, but the mother may simply not be competent to be alone with the baby, and he may not be able to enforce that.
Whenever these situations come up, I’m liable to get rebuked for “judging.” Trust me, I live *very* close to mental handicap. I know what it is. And I know others simply aren’t stable and need help.
Yet we shouldn’t prioritize that or their feelings over a child’s welfare.
This is my biggest fear! I have three stepchildren (ages 8, 10 and 14) and one of their mamas is hateful towards me. The child is manipulative and likes to play one household against the other so that everything is a constant battle. I live in constant fear that CPS will show up, even though there is nothing for me to worry about. It’s exhausting!
Some of CPS workers are monsters. I was falsely accused of abusing my five year old, three weeks ago by my son school. Since then we have been living a nightmare. My son is a very active five year old! He does martial arts, soccer and loves to climb everything. Back in November, he jumped off his bunk bed on to his sister and got a small bruise under his eye. The teacher questioned his sister the next day at school. Then they questioned my husband and we figured that was it. Two months later, we were asked to come to a meeting at school. The teacher had nothing but good things to say about my son, but wanted him to go to a one on one counseling, because she felt he was not dealing well with being put on the spot when asked to answer questions in front of the class. I said no I did not think he needs it. I felt this was his first year in school and he would learn to deal with this. Two months later, my son got another bruise less than a nickel size. The teacher called cps, put the two incidents together, and lied. She said my husband called the bed a regular bed and the kids called it a bunk bed, so this meant we were abusing him.
A woman showed up at my house and told me I was being accused of child abuse and she needed to come in talk to me and all my kids. I told her she could not come in. She said she would get a warrant. I was scared so I did talk to her, asked what it was said I did? She said abuse and neglect. I asked how they would know I neglected my kids if they have never been in my house. Her answer was well if you are abusing then it is assumed you are neglecting the other kids. She said I refused to get counseling for my aggressive child and that is when I knew the school lied and they were the ones who called. She talked to everyone and I was forced to let her in my house. They looked in my refrigerator, the kid’s rooms, and house. I was told I had to take him to their doctors, I said no he has his own doctor which he was just at. If he were abuse, that doctor would have noticed. Under duress, I was made to sign papers and told they would be checking doctors, school to see if I am not neglecting them. My kids are scared and my five year old cried.
We went to the district the next day and made a complaint. We were told we did not have to have him in school by law until he is six. We are looking into private school. The next day at 9:30 am, I got a call trying to pressure me into taking him to their doctors. I called my doctor and they checked him out and wrote to them. That was not enough, so they sent more forms to the doctor. School police also contacted me and they said there was no crime committed and they would send that report to cps. Since that day, they have harassed us three times. They came to my house again five days later for a well fare check. I refused to let them in. I offered to take picture of the house but they said no. They asked what I was hiding. I said nothing but I am being treated like a crime with no evidence I committed a crime. Because I did not allow them in my house. They showed up at all three of my kids schools. They were asked the same questions they were already asked two times before! Do they have bruises, do they have food, do we hit them, and that they were being asked these questions there to make sure we were not making them lie. Then they went to our house the same day and asked my 82-year-old father in-law, if he did drugs, do we hit the kids and so on. He was told they would be coming back again. We are living a nightmare now, because someone falsely accused us.
Curious about why you’re ok with calling the police, but not CPS. The police have less and less standardized training for recognizing abuse, and they’re mandated reporters, anyway. Also, they have firearms with them and more rights and leeway regarding getting into your house, and loose interpretations about probable cause, ‘resisting’ and ‘belligerence.’ They can arrest you one the spot if they choose (which is also traumatic for your children), they can shoot you and beat you (again, also traumatic for children). A SW can do neither of those things. Why do you prefer police intrusion in the home over CPS intrusion (assuming that we’re not talking about a violent incident that is currently underway)?
My family is African-American and I was homeschooled growing up. We lived in an all-white neighborhood, and when we first moved in, the neighbor would call the police when she saw us playing outside in the yard during school hours. After a while, the police ignored her, but the second time they came, my dad was home and answered the door. They questioned him really roughly, assuming that he didn’t live there, that he might be an intruder. Had my dad been a smart ass about it or had gotten angry, that encounter could have ended really tragically. You don’t run that kind of risk with CPS. In fact, had she called CPS, they may have laughed in her face and it would have gone now further. Who knows — maybe she HAD called CPS, and having got that response, she turned to the police (this was the late-eighties and early nineties, so most states, especially conservative ones, had home schooling laws on the books and homeschoolers weren’t vulnerable to truancy laws anymore).
All in all, the police pose a more immediate danger and they aren’t trained to spot or address ongoing issues. If you have reason to suspect abuse, call unarmed people who are.
I find this all very interesting. Again today I am sitting here googling everything I can find on neglect and CPS. I completely understand The frustration with having CPS called on something unwarranted. But also know that there are two sides to the CPS conflict. In 2005 I held my grandson after the doctors unplugged him from life support. He was 21 months old. He fell from a 3 story apartment balcony because his mother was addicted to painkillers and had fallen asleep. He was recovering when he “fell” again from a coffee table and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. CPS let my daughter take my grandson home verses letting someone else care for him while he recovered and she possibly got help. CPS was involved, The Children’s Ombudsman, the courts etc. nothing no happened.
Now my daughter has 4 more children. A 7 yr old, a five and twin 2 yr olds. They live in a subsidized apt with 2 floors. It is a fact that these children are continuously unsupervised while one or both parents are up in their bedroom. I have on a few occasions gone to their home unannounced. I bang on the door and eventually one of my older grandsons will unlock it. The parent/parents are upstairs while the babies are running around the apartment unattended. Filthy. Their other grandma walked in the other day and automatically smelled pot. Dad, the five yr old and the babies were all upstairs so we aren’t sure where he had smoked it. Looking out the back window of the apartment up a hill, you can see a park. Just a part because of the hill. They live in a very unsafe area and the older boys are allowed to go to this park alone. Sometimes taking the twins with them. I could go on and on. But I’m sure the naysayers will comment on the lack of neglect do I will leave this here. I will continue to pray daily that I don’t lose yet another grandson.
I will say I am greateful to CPS … I am likely alive because repeat calls ended in me being removed from a situation ..Between birth and age 1 when i was removed for the final time I was in the ER for odd issues ( neglect to abuse dependign how you look at it ) six times .. Flip side I have seen kids left in unsafe homes and others removed due to lies of other adults ….
I have personal expirence with cps and dhs all of which claims were made against me due to a crazy drug addict sister in law, an ex girlfriend of my childs father, a angry relative, and most recently a teacher.
All of which for their own reasons thought they could do a better job of parenting my oldest who is special needs. Truthfully everyday has its own challenges and we do from time to time struggle but the things we struggle with are normal like being punctual, or eatting veggies, or going to bed on time or agreeing on clothes for school.
Not once in my 7 years as a mom has anything out of the ordinary arose to warrant cps or dhs invading my life, yet on a single call they have repeatedly shown up an caused me grief each time they say we just need to determine if the calls are founded or unfounded. An thats where i get upset because they start with you are guilty, not lets just say hello spend a few minutes chatting an take our own impressions and compare to the accusations.
I will use the most recent as an example my son takes meds and is frequently groggy in the morning an is more often than not late to school so instead of making a plan to allow for this his teacher called the high school truancy officer on me and then lied to the officer which i spoke to at length who apologized for the call and the teacher then turned around after not getting the results he wanted and called dhs with false allegations to continue to harrass me.
Dhs has had since may 22nd to meet with me the worker left 3 business cards on my door after 8 pm and has missed a scheduled meeting with me and from what ive read she has exceeded the given time frame to follow up.
I am curious how to go forward i want the harrassment to stop, but am unsure how to go forward now with school quickly approching.
having a hard time at the moment. i hear a mother screaming at her child all day , she’s my neighbour. the child isn’t over three.. today i saw her partner holding his head, and her bend down and hit repeatedly the child who was laying on the ground. I’m terrified for the little girl, i hear the way she screams, and what the mom says to her, yells at her every day. the danger she’s in from this enraged mom….
its this grounds to call CPS, I’ve lived at my place for 6 months, and hear this every day.
Of course you should call at least the police for that poor little girl…
Thanks for this article. I called. I cried so hard after I called CPS. I was so terrified for the kids involved. Now, I am scared for my own safety because the people I called on are really bad and scary people. Meth was being used/sold and they were always having crazy fights about drugs and screaming at the kids. Big groups of people were coming to the house demanding their “dope bags” It was insane. Around 10 little kids would be playing over there during stuff like that.
Now we live with things like this:
The kids jumping our fence on Xmas day and setting our plants on fire with lighter fluid. The day before they were screaming at me that I was a witch when I took out the trash.
Kids throwing big rocks and a knife at us when we are in the back yard with our puppies.
So, the parents are using their children to commit arson and harass us now.
Awful situation for the kids, us and for all of our neighbors. I doubt cps was able to help. I don’t know. I love the kids but man I wish I had never been put in this position.
I tried to talk to the mother before even thinking of cps. She told me oh, me and my boyfriend were just doing drugs and things got out of hand. Then the next day she was lit again and started screaming threats at me over the fence.
So. Yeah. Welcome to hell.
Hi my daughter have been hearing voices for the past 2 months. I took her to see her doctor and therapy.
She have talk to her teacher about this and they call cps saying they don’t think she is getting the help she needs now they have a case and wants to follow up. I don’t understand why we have a case if I have been taking her to see doctors. They gave me a “safty plan” as if I never done anything about this issue, and following up next week.
As the child, if you are legally taken away by the CPS do you get to keep all of your belongings or only as much as you can take and will they alllow you to even take all of your belongings?
With child services it is no warrant, no entry, no discussion. Never say anything to them without an attorney present, innocent or not. They are not there to help you. We lost both our boys and our rights were terminated. 3 years without one visit, no communication at all. Not even our attorneys were permitted to know where they were. Our oldest turned 18 last year and came home. I am a 26 year veteran law enforcement officer and this is the advice I give you from personal and professional experience. Thanks.