As a family law attorney, I represent people facing child protective services investigations, and often receive calls from people asking what they should do when a caseworker knocks on the door. Here are answers to the most 5 common questions about child protective services and how you can get prepared.
Question 1: Do I have to let them in?
The answer is, “no, but….” If you do not allow the caseworker into the home, then he or she is likely to go to court and get an order that you do so. The caseworker will have to show that “there is probable cause to believe that an abused or neglected child may be found on the premises.” It will be enough if the caseworker shows the judge that: (1) someone called in a report, (2) the caseworker was denied access to the home, and (3) the caseworker advised you that you might seek a court order to gain access to the home without further notice to you. Once the caseworker gets an order that you let him or her into your home, then yes, you have to listen to the judge.
As a result, it is generally advisable that you allow them into your home before they go to court and get an order. After all, if you refuse them entry, and they get a court order, then they’ll be in your home anyway. The only difference will be that they’ll be more hostile, and more suspicious of you.
Question 2: What do I do when they’re in my home?
Be as polite as possible. The instinct may be there to be rude. After all, you’re likely thinking, “Who is this person to question how I take care of my children?” It’s critical that you resist that temptation, or else you’ll make the whole experience more difficult than it has to be. After all, by doing the investigation, the caseworker is only following the law. They have to do an investigation whenever somebody calls the State and makes allegations of abuse or neglect, even when those allegations turn out to be false. If you let the agency do what the law says that it must do, than they are more likely to get in and out of your life with as little stress as possible. You should allow them to look at the conditions of your home and talk to your children outside of your presence.
Question 3: What happens if I have a criminal case related to the investigation?
Don’t talk about the allegations with the caseworker. Everything that you say to the caseworker can be used against you in Criminal Court, and you are under no obligation to put your liberty at risk. Similarly, if there was a real incident that led to the investigation, talk to a lawyer before you say anything to the caseworker.
Question 4: What do I do next if I’m talking with Services?
If you’re in drug treatment or individual therapy, then get favorable letters from your counselor or therapist if possible. If the agency wants you to attend a conference, then go, and ask to appear by telephone if you have to be at work. If they offer you services, then accept them if possible. They’ll be out of your life more quickly if they see that you’re doing everything possible to take care of whatever conditions brought them into your life.
Question 5: How Long does the process take?
At the end of the investigation, about 60 days after the first contact, you will get a letter saying that the case was either indicated or unfounded. If the case was unfounded, that means the caseworker found no credible evidence of abuse or neglect. Congratulations, you have survived the ordeal and come out clean. If the case was indicated, then that means that the caseworker found some credible evidence of abuse or neglect. If you get that letter, then you will need to call an attorney ASAP to challenge the finding. The time is limited, so start calling attorneys that day. Just remember, this too shall pass. With that said, you do have rights.