Know your rights when fighting Child Protective/Welfare Services
Here are some of my recommendations. Keep in mind that I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice — so consider the source. Get an attorney if at all possible, and discuss these things with him/her. Your attorney will understand local procedures better than I possibly could.
What would you do if a child protective services (CPS) social worker came to your door with false accusations? What would be the best way to handle that. Read this to be prepared, before it happens to you, as it has happened to so many others…. people who believed it would never happen to them.
As you deal with the interview, remember to be polite. Child protective services workers may become angry at hostile and terrified parents, thinking they must have something to hide. Treat the social services caseworkers respectfully, but don’t give them any personal or self-incriminating information, or leads to more information.
They may need to see your children in order to close the case, and they will probably want to talk to both parents. Don’t be afraid. Do whatever needs to be done in order to get the case closed.
The less said, the better. Child protective services social workers usually show up at your door with little to no evidence. If they are acting on an anonymous tip, they have NOTHING. They cannot get a court order based on an anonymous tip. The only thing they can use against you is information you give them.
Record and Document Everything
Check your state recording laws. Print out a copy of your state’s recording law, and put it in a file folder titled “Child Welfare Agents” near your front door. Have an audio recorder or video camera handy in the house at all times. If a child protective services social worker shows up at your door, be prepared to record the interview. You can, at that time, show them that you have a copy of the recording law.
Don’t be coerced not to record — this is your legal right if your state law says it is. Video is better than audio, if you can afford to do that instead.
Furthermore, you must document everything that happens in writing! Take notes. An English activist recommends you write down every word and insist that the worker must wait until the words are properly recorded. You have the right.
Keep a spiral-bound notebook on hand and use it to document every contact with child protective services or child protective services appointed “service providers”. Don’t back down on this! Prepare in advance, and stand firm against CPS agents! After each contact, write a letter (some recommend having such a letter notarized) detailing what occurred, and request that the social worker confirm or deny the facts as you understand them within ten days of receipt of your letter. If no letter disputing the facts is received, then your statement of facts will be automatically confirmed. This form of documentation can later be used as evidence in your favor in juvenile court. See: Your Case Notebook – Is It Up To Date?
Don’t Invite The CPS Worker Inside
You are under no obligation to let a child protective services social worker into your house. Under the basic law of our land, the United States Constitution, Amendment Four, you have the right to privacy in your home. No government agent of any type is allowed to enter your home without your permission. We know of many cases where entry was coerced by statements such as “let me in or I’ll take your kids”. Do not give in! Do not give up your Constitutional Rights! Stand firm on this! If your rights are not honored, you can sue them later, but it is so much better to force them to honor your rights now. Check out Forced Entry Lawsuit.
The only exception would be if the child protective services agent shows up with a law enforcement officer bearing a search warrant. Usually that doesn’t happen — and I will tell you why. The child protective services agent is there at your door to gather evidence. Usually he doesn’t have enough real evidence to detain your child right away and there is not enough “probable cause” to obtain a search warrant. Typically, he will be just working on a phoned-in tip from someone who wants to retaliate against you for something. If you talk a lot, your words will be twisted in such a way as to be used against you in court. Also if you allow this person into your home, he will most likely find something there to complain about and use against you in court. A sink with 8 dishes needing washing can show up in his report as “a sink full of dirty dishes and a filthy kitchen” which of course would serve to make you look bad to a judge. Therefore, just don’t let these people into your home. You have no idea what an issue a child protective services social worker can make out of a pile of laundry sitting next to your washing machine!
If the complaint the child protective services social worker is there to investigate is that your house is dirty, you can go inside, take a few digital photos, and then go back outside to show her the house is just fine. Or, you can tell her that without a court order there will be no entry into your private home thanks to the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. If she’s working with only an anonymous tip, she will not be able to get a court order. If instead, she has credible evidence, she may be able to get one.
Say As Little As Possible
Of course, when you first see child protective services social workers on your doorstep, you want these people to go away and close their case. This will make you want to tell them things to clarify that you are not a danger to your children. Be careful what you say. As any activist will tell you, anything you say can be twisted and used against you!
For example, I thought it was good that my spouse and I were already involved in therapy and a 12-Step group for adult children of alcoholics. However this statement was used against me. It was used as evidence that I had problems and needed “services”. The fact that I was already taking care of my own needs and didn’t need a court order to do these things didn’t help.
Another thing you really shouldn’t tell CPS agents is whether you were once in state custody. When you tell them you were a foster child, first of all they know there’s a file out there with your name in it from which they can pull documents to use as “evidence” against you. In my case, most of the paperwork in our thick file was pulled from my spouse’s very thick state custody file. They claimed they had evidence that he was violent from the time he was in kindergarten and they were prepared to use that juvenile file against us, even though he had never harmed our child. Second, if you tell them you were a foster child, it marks you as a victim and makes them think you can be victimized more. Former foster children have their children detained at a rate much higher than most, so just be on the safe side and don’t mention that fact if it pertains to you. It really is none of their business. You should not open your mouth to help them make a case against you.
It is also not wise to tell them something like, “I am not an abuser – I should know what that is – I was abused as a child.” What this says to them is that you were abused therefore you are likely to be an abuser. Believe me, no matter what terrible situation you went through as a child, it is better not to mention that to a social worker. They will not feel so sorry for you that they will just go away. No, it doesn’t work that way. They are looking for bad things to say about you to pad their caseworker report when they present it to a judge.
Yet another thing you shouldn’t say is whether your child was detained in the past. A history of child protective services interference in your family tells a caseworker you are on their hit list. If you have ever had a child taken from you by Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) move to another state or better yet, out of the country, and keep it a secret! There is a 1996 law (ASFA – the Adoptions and Safe Families Act) that gives the child protective services agents the right to take away all future children if you ever had a TPR in the past. If this law is used against you, there will be no reunification plan, no “reasonable efforts” to keep your family together, and most likely no visitation.
Another thing to beware of: they may ask you for referrals to people to help prove your fitness to parent. For example, I was asked for my ex-husband’s phone number. Thinking he would give me a good referral, I complied. As it turned out, he was told that making a statement against me would help him keep custody of our children. The most damaging “evidence” they got against me were false statements signed by this ex-husband and his girlfriend, who had only met me briefly once and had never been in my home! This woman had the gall to make a twelve page false statement typed on legal paper regarding my parenting abilities! She called it an “affidavit” but did not sign it under penalty of perjury, and for good reason! Therefore I advise that you NOT give them “leads” to your friends, family, ex-spouses, therapists, doctors, etc. They are just looking for “evidence” against you and they are experts at coercing this sort of evidence from people who know you. Make them find their own evidence — don’t help them find or make contacts!
So, if CPS agents are at your door, stand firm and say as little as you possibly can! If you feel they are making a case against you anyhow, get an attorney to help you through an interview in your attorney’s office.
Don’t Trust CPS Social Workers
In other words, know the enemy. Know who child protective services workers are. I used to work with child protective services workers in the Dept. of Public Social Services, Visalia, California, so I think I’m in a position to tell you what these government agents are like, though I’ve never been one. (I was a welfare eligibility worker.) The typical child protective services social worker is there for one reason: to have a job to pay his/her bills. This worker cannot afford to lose the job, so s/he will do whatever the supervisor says in order to maintain employment.
Now, if this child protective services social worker is put into a unit assigned to go investigate referrals and to make decisions regarding detainment of children, then naturally this person would be suspect if s/he never detained a kid! In order to maintain employment, this child protective services social worker will have to take a certain number of children into custody… therefore when they are at your home, they are thinking to themselves, “what can I find out about this family to build a case aimed at taking their kid?” They must have a case to take into court, and they are there, looking for evidence.
Even if they seem nice and harmless, remember, this is how child protective services makes money. To keep their jobs, they must take away children from their families. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They come to your door saying, “I’m just here to help.” The next thing you know, your children are in state custody and you are in court trying to prove your innocence. Remember, even if you like the person, behind every pleasant personality is a need to keep the child protective services social worker job. Behind every seemingly nice caseworker there is a more experienced child protective services supervisor who may tell your caseworker to “find something” to use to detain your child. You would not believe some of the idiotic allegations I have seen in caseworker reports… but if they can get a judge to rubber stamp their side of the story, they can get away with keeping your children in state custody. Don’t trust these people!
You need to understand that child protective services funding is closely tied in with “service providers”. It is likely that the social worker will offer some kind of deal, saying you can keep your kid if you agree to “services” like psychological testing, drug testing, therapy, etc. What this offer really means is that they don’t have enough evidence to take your child into their custody, but if you will just go to their “service providers” they may get the “evidence” they need through these “service provider” reports.
Say, for example, you are accused of drug use. They want you to go to a drug testing service to prove your innocence. You say, “Okay, I’m not a drug user, I’ll go”. But then you find yourself facing false-positive results … or if you miss an appointment, you are told that will count as a positive drug test. Your life is being severely interfered with because you have to go to scheduled appointments, miss work, make special child care arrangements, etc. Believe me, all this is not a “service” to you, no matter what they call it! It is only a way for child protective services social workers to try to get “evidence” against you so they can take your children away.
What I recommend based on what I’d do in similar circumstances: Do NOT sign their plans. Do NOT admit to anything. Force them to PROVE their cases in court, in a FULL TRIAL. Don’t accept just a hearing where you are coerced to sign guilty to the charges. They will try every trick in the book to get you to agree to their sick “service plans”. Stand firm and just say “no” when they ask you to sign your legal rights away.
Just Say “NO” To Private Interviews With Your Child
The CPS agents will want to talk to your child alone. Just say “NO”. Tell the agents that your child has the right to have an attorney present, and that if he insists on an interview then you and the attorney will be present and the interview will be recorded, preferably on videotape. Of course, if your child is attending a public school, you probably won’t get a chance to say “no”. What would happen is that the social worker would go to the school and, behind your back, get permission to talk with your children from the school employees. You can tell the school ahead of time (in writing) that you don’t permit such interviews, or anything other than basic education activities, however you cannot trust school employees to go by your wishes. It might help to ask your attorney to write a letter to the school forbidding interviews with CPS workers. Keep in mind that the public schools are one of the major sources of CPS referrals. I have heard that caseworkers complain that public school employees actually want more child detentions than CPS agents do!
My advice is not to trust the schools, and to homeschool if possible. I am a big homeschooling advocate because I believe it is best for kids, and one of these days I will write a page about that too… but in the meantime, just keep in mind that it is hard to say “no” to interviews if your child’s school will say “yes”.
Already the government puts child protective services social workers into public schools to look for target children. Eventually, this may be the case in every public school. I think this is a good place for me to mention that I support the separation of school and state. Please check it out.
Be sure your children know that they have the right to say, “I don’t want to be interviewed without my parents and an attorney and a tape recorder present.” Child protective services social workers will not tell your child that s/he has the right to say that. If there is still time, you must be the one to train your child how to deal with government agents. Be sure your child knows the consequences of child protective services interviews. If anyone is detained, it is the child. If they say the wrong thing, they can be taken into custody and removed, possibly permanently, from parents, siblings, friends, their home town, their pets, and everything else they hold dear in life! They will be traumatized by that separation, and probably put on harmful adult psychotropic drugs to deal with the separation. See: Drugging Foster Children.
If they complain too much about being incarcerated in state custody homes, they may be put into mental hospitals, or placed in restraints, which are known to be deadly. “Teach your children well,” as the old song goes. We live in perilous times. We owe it to our children to help them learn to deal with government agents that may harm them. Remember, children are eight to ten times more at risk of abuse in foster and group homes, so we are not over-reacting in teaching our children these self-protective measures.
I’ve suggested that you keep the following things on hand: a tape recorder, blank tape, video camera, spiral-bound notebook, and a file folder marked “Child Welfare Agents”. If you have time to prepare for a visit before it happens, you are very lucky. Most people don’t take the threat of government interference in their lives seriously — until after it happens to them.
To prepare, I suggest the following items be printed out from the internet and placed in your folder: your state and federal laws regarding child welfare services; court cases that ensure your rights; the Bill of Rights, newspaper articles and statistics showing that children are not safe in state custody homes. Be prepared to show these things to the social worker that comes to your door, and question them about the wisdom of taking children into state custody where they are eight to ten times more at risk of abuse.
If they want to take your kids, question them about the “reasonable efforts” requirement to keep families together, and about what “pre-placement preventative services” they are offering. If they want your child, ask about what “imminent danger” exists. Let them know that you know the laws!
For example, if they claim something happened on Monday to your child but they show up on Friday afternoon to pick your child up, you should be telling these social workers that obviously no “imminent danger” exists or they would have acted on the report right away! If you don’t stand firm and point out their mistakes, they will walk all over you and violate their own laws in many different ways. Yes, your child still might be detained, but if you show them you know their laws and can speak their lingo, they will think twice before choosing you as a new client.
In addition to the paperwork detailed above, keep on hand in this “Child Welfare Agents” file your pediatrician’s doctor reports showing that your child is healthy. Every time your child sees a physician, request in writing that the full report be sent to you. You should not give these reports to a CPS agent, but you can let him know you have evidence showing that you are a good parent, not an abuser. Flash the papers before his/her face, don’t hand them over to be read… these are your own valuable documents and you don’t need to share or tell the worker who the child’s doctor is. Let the worker find evidence on his/her own. Don’t help a CPS agent try to build a case against you.
The point of having this folder is to let the social worker know that you know the laws and you are prepared to defend yourself! You are not going to share your “evidence” with a social worker. They have no right to it unless the case goes to court, and then you share it with your attorney only – or if you’re representing yourself, you can enter items like pediatrician reports into the court records as evidence.
Be prepared to face coercion, even from your own court appointed attorney. Just like many others, I too was told by my county attorney that I could take my child home that day if I would just sign guilty to the charges, and I was so desperate to get my baby, I signed. Thousands of us have done that. Believe me, it is better to say “No – I want a full trial – you must prove your charges!” If you give in to the coercion, you will be jumping through their “service plan” hoops for months to come. If you go through with a trial, there’s a possibility you will win your freedom from this government interference in your family’s life.
If you go through a trial, and your child is adjudged a state ward, and you are court-ordered to complete a “service plan” or “reunification plan,” then of course you should do your best to complete every part of it before the next court hearing. This plan will most likely include psychological testing and counseling — that is a standard waste of taxpayer money. If the social workers want to court order you to anything that does not apply to your case, you should insist that your attorney fight this requirement in court. For example, if they want you to go to drug testing despite the fact that you are not a drug user and they have no evidence that you might be, then fight it! After the court hearing, if social workers try to force you into “services” that are not in the court-ordered plan you can refuse to cooperate. You are only required to do things that the judge has ordered. You should document all such illegal requests for additional services that haven’t been required by a judge. You can request a state administrative hearing from the state social services department to discuss these requests with an Administrative Law Judge.
Likewise you may find that child protective services social workers are trying to delay setting up services that are court ordered. You must document your repeated requests for such services and the excuses the child protective services social workers give for delaying the start of such services. Child protective services agents have been known to delay services so that your case will last longer. If your child is in state custody for 15 months, your parental rights can be terminated on that basis alone. Your goal will be to get your child returned at the next court hearing, so don’t allow delays!