If you are under investigation for child abuse or neglect, it is often possible to take a pro-active approach to prevent your childâ€™s removal from the home, or to get your child back if placed in foster care. This Legal Guide discusses the statutory basis for a court finding of abuse or neglect.
It is frightening to be questioned about child abuse or neglect by the police or Child Protective Services social workers. These can be heart-wrenching situations for the children and parents. An experienced attorney can often calm things down, explain the process to you and help you prove to the authorities the truth about the allegations.
Washingtonâ€™s Child Abuse Statutes
Washington Stateâ€™s laws about state protection of children from abuse and neglect are cited as RCW chapter 26.44. This statute outlines the definition of child abuse and neglect, the procedure to be followed when abuse or neglect occurs, who has to report abuse or neglect, and what agency has the responsibility to protect the child in these cases. Child abuse is defined as the injury, sexual abuse/exploitation or negligent treatment of a child, under circumstances which indicate that such child's health, welfare, or safety is harmed. Certain public officers and employees and medical providers are mandated to report child abuse: All medical practitioners, coroners, law enforcement officers, school personnel, nurses, social services counselors, psychologists, pharmacists, child care providers, juvenile probation officers, and DSHS employees. A report to the Child Protection Service must be made whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect.
Stepping In as a Grandparent or Relative
Grandparents, aunts/uncles, adult siblings, godparents or other relatives of a child can petition the court for non-parental custody in abuse or neglect cases. CPS has a statutory obligation to give families preference over foster care for out-of-home placement of children who have been allegedly abused or neglected by their biological parents. If you believe that your grandchild, or the child of another relative, would be better off with family members than in foster care, an experienced attorney can sometimes intercede with CPS and the court on your behalf to have the child officially placed with you. Due to the large caseloads of CPS workers, they often encourage qualified family members to file a Petition for Nonparental Custody (See Bruce Clement's AVVO Legal Guide on Nonparental Custody).
The Role of the Attorney
An experienced attorney can help you prevent your child from being wrongfully taken away and placed in foster care. If CPS has already taken your child into protective custody, an experienced attorney can help you show CPS and the court when you are ready to resume custody, and to make sure that the court considers and understands all of the relevant evidence. Bruce Clement worked in the Washington State Attorney General's Office (AGO) for 17 years before moving to private practice. In the AGO he handled hundreds of child abuse and neglect cases for the Department of Social and Human Services, and for two years was its lead trainer for Washington State caseworkers on the law of child abuse. He wrote a handbook for caseworkers on this subject, and received an award for seminars on child abuse conducted across the state for county prosecutors. His insider's perspective can help show the Court what course of action will serve the best interests of the children.