So, you have an allegation of abuse or neglect. What do you do first? Do you keep it quiet and hope that it goes away? Do you open your doors invite the Child Protective Worker in and hope that they will see that there is nothing to worry about? Do you tell them to leave and come back with a subpoena?
There is no "absolute" right or wrong answer. Here are some self assessment questions to consider.
1. What is the allegation? It is much harder to substantiate or prove neglect or emotional abuse then physical or sexual abuse. Risk of harm can be reduced immediately by addressing the concern that is being brought to your attention. For example: a new friend may be substantiated as a sexual offender and you didn't know it. Acknowledging this new information and agreeing to not allow any contact will impact any decisions CPS makes.
In determining the action to be taken, CPS typically evaluates the allegation for severity, chronicity, long term, and short term impact. Whereas a finding - or even simply an allegation - of sexual abuse could result in immediate removal; not having appropriate clothing could result in an ongoing investigation, corrective action, and case closure.
You can find how your State defines abuse and neglect through the ChildWelfare.Gov website:
2. Is there any substance to the allegation? Are you being accused of beating your child and the "proof" is a birth mark on your child's back? One individual's three year old daughter, let herself out into the yard, while her mom was sleeping. If mom was drinking the night before and was hung over and slept in then there could be a totally different outcome then if mom was in the bathroom and she came out and realized she was gone and went searching for her within a few minutes.
3. Do you have a support system? Are there people around you, who can step in and help you with the children? Someone, who the department would see as safe and responsible, to take the children if CPS finds that there is an immediate risk of harm? Child Protective Service workers are less likely to step in for immediate removal if you have someone who can guarantee that your children will be safe and protected while they do their investigation. CPS can require removal if the risk of harm is immediate.
4. Do you have support services? Do you have medical providers, therapists, social service agency involvement who can vouch for your ability to keep your children safe? Can you make or have you made a safety plan with your support service providers?
5. Is this the first allegation? Repeated visits from CPS increases the probability that a case will be built that will substantiate abuse. Working a plan with a CPS worker and acknowledging any previous history or relapses and taking corrective action increases the chances of a positive outcome.
6. Are you ready to do whatever it takes to ensure your child's needs are met and that your child is safe? Sometimes, the abuser is a partner or family member. If that is the case, are you willing to make the report, get the protection order and do whatever it takes to ensure your child's safety?
There are no easy answers and no absolutes. The common goal of Child Protective Services and you, if you are like most parents and not the parent who has no regards for your child's safety, is that your child(ren) will be safe, loved and nurtured. Sometimes, life happens and things get in the way. You lose your job, helping someone else puts you in harms way, your child gets bruised. More often then not being honest, taking responsibility and doing everything in your power to keep your child safe will result in a positive outcome both with CPS and with your child's well being.
What do you do first? Make sure your child is safe - physically and emotionally. Make a safety plan with or without your CPS investigator.
Resources that might help:
1. An attorney
3. Your state website - Department of Health & Human Services - many states have handbooks for parents, the DHHS policies and links to resources such as the Ombudsman.
I welcome your comments, stories and feedback.