When a CPS/DFCS social worker lands at your doorstep and informs you about the accusations received against you, take it seriously. It may at times sound absurd to you, but that is no reason to laugh off the same. They are bound by law and duty to check up on any misdemeanor brought to their notice. They may start by informing you that they are not there to take away your children, but make a mental note that that is at the back of their minds. Our experience of dealing with the social workers for over 20 years tells us that they are cynical about life and unlike the courts they believe that you are guilty until proven innocent. It’s a different matter that the justice system says that one is innocent until proved guilty, but that doesn’t hold good here.
2: Know your accusations and charges.
Know your rights. Though the CPS/DFCS social workers may beat around the bush in giving you the right information, they are required by state as well as federal law to provide you the same on first contact itself. BE extremely wary if they use words like neglect or abuse as legally these two are broad categories that cover a lot of things. If you mistakenly agree or accept any of these general charges, you may be in trouble. Hence it is important to know the exact details and specifics of what you are being accused of.
3: The lesser you say, the better it is! In fact, don’t say anything.
Almost all charges that will be made against you by CPS or DFCS will be of a criminal nature. And in such circumstances, it is best not to talk to anyone except your attorney. They know what is best and what should and should not be said. Most often based on whatever you say, CPS workers may make a case and inform the police. So while they take your kids away, there is also a good possibility that the police lands up at your doorstep next.
Understand that the CPS social workers are most often not reasonable due to their cynical outlook acquired on the job. So even if you consider yourself as innocent and try to explain matters and circumstances to them, they may not take your word for it. And more importantly anything you say can be used against you as well. As mentioned above, they have come in with the mindset that you are guilty and will be more prone to prove it that way. After all, they have taken all the trouble to respond to an informant and made it to your home on a rescue and remedy mission. So they are more inclined to look for evidence to prove their case rather than pay attention to what you are trying to say.
By staying silent you are winning a major battle here as they lose the power to use anything that you said against you. Their questions may seem innocent, like “Have you ever spanked your kids?”, but then, there are no right answers to such questions. Parental punishment is not considered acceptable by most CPS and DFCS social workers.
4: Get an attorney who has the expertise in handling CPS or DFCS as soon as possible.
Don’t waste time, get on the phone and call that attorney straight away. It is important to find an attorney who is experienced in handling CPS and DFCS cases and courts. This experience stands good, as they understand how this functions, and can guide you properly at every step of your case. Juvenile dependency courts are a totally different world and unless the attorney is an experienced, seasoned person who has seen and known it, they will find it difficult. If an attorney doesn’t know how CPS/DFCS and these courts function and just convey the information back and forth, it may become a big hurdle and you may end up losing your children for sure.
5: It’s tough, but be polite to CPS personnel& investigators.
When you find some well-dressed personnel identifying themselves are government authorized personnel on your doorstep, and furthermore levelling charges of child abuse and neglect against you, it is but natural that you are taken aback. You get shocked and worried and a lot afraid too. All of us are only too well aware of how powerful the government and its agencies can be and how powerless we feel when up against them. We all have those few friends and families who have faced something similar.
The worst part of all this is that this is a totally unexpected visit giving you no time to prepare any which way. We always loathe surprise visits even if they are friendly ones as there could be umpteen things that are not right about it, the least of which could be that the house is messy and you are just not dressed right. So to compound matters, when you find a well-dressed government agent at your doorstep standing at your doorstep accusing you of child neglect and abuse, you are already at a disadvantage. The shock, fear and distress can make you speechless in fact which is in a way good. Remember, don’t give out any information. Be polite, ask for information and try to be calm and remember to get an attorney. Even your natural reaction of anger and distress can be termed against you to build the case.
6: CPS or DFCS social worker cannot enter your home without a warrant or a court order.
Unless the agents at your doorstep show you a valid court order or warrant, do not ask them in, however insisting or intimidating they appear and sound. Even if they say that not allowing them entry will be held against you, tell them firmly that you know your rights and that by law they are supposed to come with a warrant or a court order. Be firm but polite. The truth is they are supposed to give you a copy of the same, so insist on seeing it. There are also instances where they may actually not have a warrant and simply suggest that they do have. This will help them in entering the home based on your fear and then gain evidence to make a case against you. Even though not allowing entry without a warrant may annoy the personnel, legally you are safe and better off. Even if they suggest that it is an emergency, ask to be explained on what that emergency is. At times, if you open the door and allow them in, they may create an emergency situation to take advantage. Since the CPS and the police have a working relationship, it is easy for them to come in together quoting emergency situations.
Be FIRM. It is important to keep a calm, rational mind and not give in to thoughts like ‘Surely, if I have not done anything wrong, there is no harm in cooperating, etc.’ By giving in to such instincts and inviting a CPS investigator or DFCS social worker in, you may end up losing your constitutional protection. Remember that the ultimate intention of the CPS social worker is to find something that will justify their action of taking the kids away from you. Hence inviting them in without any proper warrant is dangerous.
CPS and DFCS agents in Southern California are known to be the most ruthless though such situations do occur across America almost every day. It’s tough to believe, but a legal prescription, a beer bottle, a kitchen knife or a missing smoke detector or a broken window etc. can be used against you to prove the case as neglectful parents and take your children away. So if you are not firm and polite and end up inviting them in, you may be in store for a long legal battle of your lifetime and considering your children, it can be hell.
7: Demand and make sure that your child’s interrogation is taped
If they have a valid court order and warrant and are invited into your home and they start interrogating your child, demand that it be taped. In fact, for good measure, as a back-up, use your own recorder. There is every possibility that the child may not provide any incriminating evidence against you and so the CPS investigator may “lose” the tape and you will be left with no evidence of your innocence.
8: If the charges made against you are of physical abuse, get your doctor to physically examine the child, immediately.
This is very important. If you are being charged for physical abuse of the child or children, then it is important to get your doctor to examine the kids and provide a report stating that no such injuries or any other grievous health issues related to neglect were found. Make sure that you go to a doctor known to you and is trustworthy, not the one suggested by CPS workers. There is a possibility that you may be taken to a doctor who is with the CPS system, thereby acting as an expert-testimony eyewitness against the parents. These doctors are also paid well for their role.
9: Prepare a list of close family and friends who can take care of your kids
If it is decided that the kids need to be taken away from your home, then make sure that you draw up a list of your closest family and friends who are willing to take care of your kids for the requisite period. Otherwise the kids may be taken to foster homes. There are instances of kids being mistreated or abused in foster homes as most of them care only for the paycheck received for providing the foster care. At the same time, remember that if the foster parents are extremely nice people, then there is a possibility that your kids may end up asking for an adoption instead of returning to you!!!! Just be aware of the consequences while making your choices.
10: Do not be misled into admitting your guilt by a CPS activist even if you are told that the admission may get your kids back to you
It is possible that due to the shock and distress of having to lose your kids, you may end up agreeing to the CPS workers’ “suggestion” of admitting to being guilty of abuse or neglect even if you are innocent. Most often, they come to investigate since they have been tipped off by someone saying that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol etc. and they are duty bound by law to investigate and ensure your kids’ safety.
As already mentioned, say nothing, admit nothing. Remember that a CPS worker is not your doctor, priest or lawyer. You can seek help outside with the right person at the right time, but admitting to any wrongdoing here can ensure that you lose your kids and face a long drawn legal battle that will drain you out.
By not admitting your guilt and seeking the right form of help independently, you may end up doing a big favor to yourself and your family. You can then pursue the case and try and keep the kids with you.
Most often if you admit to being guilty, you end up in a jail. And that may put paid to many of the options for getting your life back in order. It is always safer and better to get the services of an attorney who understands your situation. An attorney who has already worked with Juvenile Dependency Courts, kids and parents can help you through the case. It is important to keep in mind that the CPS workers may twist facts and try to prove their end of the case as justified.
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~ The DFCS Help Team