What Should I Do If I'm Contacted by CPS/CWS?
Getting contacted by CPS/CWS because they want to talk to you about an allegation (i.e., investigate you) is a scary ordeal. Make the wrong move and you could land yourself in jail. Here's what you should do.
IntroductionWhen Child Protective Services (or Child Welfare Services) contacts you to ask you questions about an allegation of abuse or neglect, many things can go wrong. There are 5 separate risks that you could face. The law related to each of the 5 risks is different and could require a different lawyer. The 5 issues you may face are: 1) criminal prosecution, 2) dependency court, 3) CACI proceedings, 4) family court, and 5) civil liability.
Criminal ProsecutionEvery time CPS receives a report of suspected child abuse or neglect, they forward the report on to law enforcement. This means that if you are contacted by CPS, there's a good chance you will also be contacted by a police officer or detective.
This is a crucial time in your case. You should not speak with law enforcement. Instead, you should hire a lawyer who specializes in child abuse defense to act as an intermediary between you and the cops. Your lawyer can speak on your behalf and provide all the information necessary to the police to exonerate you, or prove your innocence. A good lawyer should be able to present your side of the story in a convincing and credible manner.
If the police agency forwards your case to the District Attorney's office for potential prosecution, your lawyer can put together a packet of information to present to the prosecutors to try to persuade them not to file criminal charges against you. It is imperative that your lawyer communicate with the prosecutors with a credible, reasonable, objective voice. The idea is to convince the prosecutors that they will not be able to prove the allegation against you. You will want a seasoned child abuse defense lawyer to help you with this.
The importance of avoiding criminal prosecution for child abuse cannot be overstated. Not only could you face jail or prison time, but the result of any criminal investigation will likely have an enormous impact on the other 4 issues that I discuss below.
Dependency CourtDependency court refers to the process of the government's (i.e., CPS and county counsel) attempt to take away your parental rights and have your children removed from your home. Your children could be placed with foster parents. At the end of the dependency case, if things go poorly for you, you could lose your children forever.
When CPS contacts you, their primary objective is to determine whether they want to take your children away from you and take you to dependency court. That is what they are trying to figure out. That is why they want to talk to you.
Many people who end up in dependency feel like they don't belong there. They feel like CPS mishandled their case. You don't want to be one of those people. To avoid it, you should speak with and hire a dependency lawyer before you ever speak with a CPS/CWS investigating social worker.
In dependency court, the judge will give you the opportunity to use a court-appointed lawyer. If you don't want a court-appointed lawyer, you should hire a private lawyer right away, before your first court date.
The outcome of a dependency case will determine what level of rights you have in the following type of case: the CACI proceeding.
CACI ProceedingIf CPS determines that you committed child abuse or neglect, it will conclude your case with a finding of "substantiated." When this happens, the child welfare agency will submit your name to the California Department of Justice for placement on the Child Abuse Central Index: a statewide list of known child abusers.
You will have to request a "grievance hearing" in order to get your name off the CACI. Make sure you submit the "Request for a Grievance Hearing" form within 30 days of receiving it in the mail. If you do not submit it to the county agency on time, you will lose your chance to get off the CACI--you will be listed on the CACI for the rest of your life, and there will be nothing you can do about it.
Most California lawyers have never represented a client in a CACI grievance hearing before. To give yourself the best chance at winning your hearing, make sure you hire a lawyer with demonstrated success in many Child Abuse Central Index grievance hearings.
Family CourtOnce you are accused of child abuse or neglect, the likelihood of facing a child custody hearing in family court increases tremendously. Many family court judges will be persuaded by any actions/decisions made by law enforcement and CPS. You will need a child abuse defense attorney on your side in family court.
If your family lawyer lacks expertise in child abuse defense, you should hire a child abuse defense lawyer to consult with and work with your family lawyer. You may even want both lawyers to show up in court for you as they work together to help you keep custody of your children.
Civil LiabiltyIf you have significant wealth or assets, an allegation of child abuse or neglect against you could also result in a lawsuit. The child who was alleged to have been abused, or the child's parent or guardian, could sue you in civil court to receive monetary damages.
It will likely not be easy to find a lawyer to represent you in civil court. And the lawyers you will find will be extremely expensive. So you will want to avoid a civil lawsuit by hiring an excellent child abuse defense lawyer from the get-go.
ConclusionAs you see, when CPS comes knocking on your door, you're in a dangerous position. Talk to a seasoned child abuse defense lawyer before you agree to speak with any CPS/CWS social worker. If you do speak with a social worker, make sure you tape record the conversation.
I represent clients accused of child abuse or neglect throughout California. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me.