Across the States
Responding to CPS Contacts
“Do I have to let social services in my house?” Home School Legal Defense Association routinely hears this question from concerned homeschoolers who want to be prepared in case they receive a visit from child protective services (CPS). While CPS visits are not a common experience, prepared parents are equipped to calmly and courteously handle a social services investigation, helping to allay CPS workers’ concerns and their own children’s fears during the visit.
When CPS staff receive a report of child abuse or neglect, they are required by law to make an investigation to determine whether there is child abuse or neglect taking place. (Because homeschooling is not well understood by many CPS workers, it may become part of the investigation although it is not usually a cause for investigation. HSLDA supports prosecuting true child abusers, but objects to innocent families being forced to undergo stressful investigations based on anonymous or specious tips.) Unless the CPS workers have proof that abuse is taking place, creating “exigent circumstances,” they do not have the authority to enter a home without a court order.
In California, there are three potential outcomes to a CPS investigation: substantiated (abuse is taking place); unfounded (no abuse is taking place); or inconclusive (not enough information to make a determination). All “substantiated” reports are sent to the state registry for child abuse. In an “unsubstantiated” report, the investigation is closed and no report is made to the state registry. “Inconclusive” means the social worker did not feel he received enough information to make a determination. With not enough proof of abuse or neglect to warrant filing a petition in juvenile court, the investigation is closed with a report to Sacramento of “inconclusive” so the family can be tracked if there are future reports.
HSLDA’s goal in working with families under investigation for child abuse or neglect is to obtain an “unfounded” report with the minimal amount of intrusion. Most families are going to want to cooperate enough with the investigation so that it is closed and behind them, yet not traumatic for their children. For a family to be listed on the state registry for child abuse means that they will probably not be able to adopt, or work for any school that is required to do background checks, work for law enforcement, or be licensed to do day care. (For more detailed advice on how to handle a social worker at the door, log in to the members only section of our website to find “Social Worker at Your Door: 10 Helpful Hints.”) In conjunction with Family Protection Ministries, we will continue to work to have “inconclusive” report removed as an option for reporting.
Our legal department is available to advise you how to handle initial contacts with CPS, and we encourage you to call us immediately if you are uncertain about what to say or do.
— by J. Michael Smith