Child Youth Services Investigations
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services oversees the Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYS). Underneath these state-level agencies are county-based children and youth services office, also known as Child Protective Services (CPS). Like all parents, you hope you never encounter CPS. Unfortunately, one day a caseworker may show up at your door. A simple bruise on your child’s back or misinformation from a nosey neighbor could send you into a challenging and emotional situation.
The best thing you can do if child youth services begins to investigate your family is call a lawyer and carefully follow the rules. A CPS attorney will ensure you are always aware of your rights and options. They will also make sure you are able to fight for what is best for your child every step of the way.
When CPS Will Initiate an Investigation
A county’s division of CPS will look into any reports of physical, sexual, or mental abuse of a child, serious neglect, or an imminent risk of abuse. These reports may be made by parents, family members, neighbors, friends, teachers, day care workers, coaches, medical professionals, and more. Some reports are required by law, while others are made voluntarily. Many adults are mandatory reporters under Pennsylvania law, including:
- School employees
- Any adult who routinely looks after a child during a program or activity
- Employees of child care services who have direct contact with the child
- Religious officials or spiritual leaders of any established religious organization
- Emergency medical services providers
- Employees of health care facilities
- Social services employees who have direct contact with the child
- Law enforcement officers and prosecutors
- Library employees who have direct contact with the child
- Foster parents
- Any adult family members responsible for a child’s welfare
- Lawyers working with organizations that provide care for the child
- Anyone licensed or certified under the Department of State to work in a health-related field
- An independent contractor
A person may make a written or oral report to local or state authorities because of visible marks of harm on a child, something a child says, continuous signs of significant neglect, or photographic or video evidence of abuse or neglect.
Some examples of how investigations begin include:
- A teacher notices numerous bruises on a young child that they believe are not consistent with playground accidents.
- A day care worker notices what appears to be vaginal bleeding in an infant’s diaper.
- A physician notices a child shows signs of malnutrition.
The CPS Investigation Process
The county division of CPS has 24 hours to open an investigation and make contact with the child in question. This usually entails going to the child’s home, seeing the child, and speaking with their parents or legal guardians. The purpose of this visit is to determine if the child is currently safe, or if there is evidence that they should be removed from the home quickly.
Following this initial visit, the child either remains or is removed from the home. CPS personnel may visit the home multiple times, and some visits may be unannounced. A trained caseworker may also interview other adults in the child’s life to determine the situation and whether abuse or neglect has occurred. These interviews may take place in a person’s home, workplace, local CPS office, or a police station.
Depending on the allegations, CPS may require that the child goes through a physical exam. This physical exam may also be supplemented with other tests, such as X-rays and blood work. The results of the medical exam may support physical abuse or serious neglect.
CPS usually resolves investigations within 30 days. However, if they cannot resolve the case within a month, then CPS must document why and complete the investigation within 60 days.
Parents’ Rights During a CPS Investigation
As a child’s parent or legal guardian, you always have the right to your own attorney during any CPS investigation. A lawyer is essential to protecting the rights of you and your child during an investigation. A caseworker is not going to take the time to explain your rights and options, particularly if they fear you have been abusive or neglectful.
If your child is removed before you have the change to hire a lawyer, then your attorney will immediately look into how to establish the right situation for your child, and how to get your child back. You have the right to appeal your child’s removal, and at the appropriate hearings, present evidence that your child belongs at home. Your lawyer will make sure you never miss an opportunity to fight for your son or daughter’s well-being.
You have the right to see and speak with your child during the investigation. You can usually obtain a scheduled visit at least once per week, unless a judge has found it to be in your child’s best interests to not see you. The visits may be supervised. You can also seek consistent contact with your child over the phone when they are living in foster care or with a family member.
Additionally, if the CPS investigation is resolved against you, then you have the right to appeal the final decision. Whether or not your child is returned home immediately may depend on successful completion of a family service plan (FSP). Through this plan, you improve the home environment, your relationship with your child, and your parenting skills so that your child can return home.
When a Child Will Be Removed From Home
Your child may be removed from your home immediately or after the CPS investigation. This is known as protective custody. However, CPS cannot simply take your child. Only certain individuals can remove your child from your home in specific situations. There need to be facts that support your child is immediate danger if they are not removed from the situation and taken somewhere safe.
CPS needs a court order to remove your child from the home. The judge must determine that the child remaining in the situation is contrary to their welfare. If a caseworker believes your child is in immediate danger and there is no time to wait for a court order, then they may call the police. A cop can remove your child from your home immediately and without a court order if there are reasonable grounds to believe the child is in imminent danger.
Additionally, a physician or director of a medical facility where your child is being treated can take your child if it is immediately necessary, or if your child is a newborn.
Your child may not be taken from your home by CPS or the police right away. However, CYS may file a case in court if it believes you are not providing proper care for your child. This is known as a dependency hearing, and the purpose of it is for a judge to determine if your child is without proper care and is therefore “dependent.” If a judge finds the evidence you are neglecting your child, your son or daughter may be placed under court supervision and the judge may order you and your family members to participate in certain services or programs. The judge can also order your child to be temporarily removed from your home.
Kinship Care and Foster Care Options
Your child may be placed in foster care immediately after they are removed from your home. This could be the best thing for your child, at least temporarily. However, it is rarely your first choice for your child. You can fight for your son or daughter to be returned to your home from foster care or to enter kinship care.
Kinship care is an arrangement in which an adult family member or very close friend becomes your child’s primary caretaker. Your child will live with them, and they will make both the day-to-day and larger decisions for your child. Whether they can make decisions regarding your child’s medical care or education depends on the exact situation.
Getting Your Child Back
If your child is removed from your home either immediately, during an investigation, or due to the resolution of the case, do not lose hope. This does not have to be a permanent situation. Many parents are able to get their children back from foster or kinship care.
One way to get your child back is for your lawyer to appeal the removal and show the court that CPS or the police had insufficient evidence to remove your child from the home. If you can show there was too little information regarding imminent danger and that your child is not in danger at home, your child will be returned to your care.
In many situations, you must address the reasons your child was taken. You may have to go through drug or alcohol abuse treatment, parenting classes, and psychological counseling. Being proactive about improving the situation at home can go a long way.
Call a CPS Lawyer Right Away
As soon as you learn you are under investigation by CPS, you need to contact an experienced lawyer from Czekaj Law, LLC. Even when you know the allegations to be false, you need an attorney. CPS has a great deal of power, and caseworkers will always err on the side of caution. A CPS lawyer will do everything to protect you from such a situation, and if your child is removed, they will take every step possible to get your child back.