What CPS Can And Cannot Do (& What To Do About It) - Low Income Relief (2023)

Parents need to understand what CPS can and cannot do. An encounter with Child Protective Services can be traumatizing for the entire family, so it’s critically important that you understand your rights ahead of time.

As you may know from our previous posts, we’ve had a few encounters with CPS over the years. Every time, they are deemed unfounded. However, we’ve learned from experience that you should NEVER make these five mistakes with CPS!

However, this article isn’t meant to discuss our experiences. This article is designed to help you understand your rights. After all, you need to thoroughly understand what CPS can and cannot do – at least, in terms of the law – so you can get your case dismissed quickly.

Before we begin, please remember that we are not lawyers or social workers. We are just well-intentioned researchers who have uncovered a lot of information. You should always consult with a legal professional about your specific circumstances. You can find a free legal aid directory here.

What CPS Can And Cannot Do (& What To Do About It) - Low Income Relief (1)


What CPS Can Do

(Video) 3 Major Mistakes that Innocent Parents Make with CPS

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Your Rights as a Parent

What CPS Can Do

It is important to understand what CPS can do. Many parents do not understand the scope of this agency’s power.

CPS can investigate reports, even if they are false.

Mandated reporters are required to report any suspected child abuse. It is illegal for them not to do so. Mandated reporters include doctors, lawyers and therapists.

Of course, other people can make reports as well. This may include landlords, neighbors, friends or family members.

As a result, CPS receives a lot of reports. Not all of them are accurate. Some of them are blatantly and obviously false, like the time I was accused of having animal feces all over my home when I didn’t even own a pet.

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The agency has an obligation to investigate every substantial report. However, in some cases, the report may not be substantial or severe enough to warrant investigation.

CPS can help you connect with resources.

The agency is very good at connecting families with beneficial resources. In some cases, they may even be able to provide financial assistance. CPS once pledged $500 to our power bill!

CPS can meet with your child without your permission.

This is one of the most alarming things that parents learn about CPS, but it’s true. CPS caseworkers have the right to meet with your children without your permission and without you present.

In fact, CPS will often speak to your child before they speak to you. This is to ensure that guilty parents do not have the opportunity to coach or threaten their children into providing specific answers.

Of course, this is because real abuse would never be discovered if abusive parents had to give permission or had the right to be present for interviews.

CPS can ask invasive and “nosy” questions.

The investigation process is designed to be thorough. As a result, they may ask questions that you are not comfortable with. They still have the right to ask those questions.

CPS can demand that you follow a plan.

When you work with CPS, you may be asked to comply with a safety or service plan. These are generally not court ordered and therefore cannot be enforced. However, if you fail to follow the plan, CPS can tell the court that you are not cooperative.

CPS can use whatever you say against you.

Your conversations with anyone at CPS are not confidential. Whatever you say can be used against you in court, even if it is taken out of context. Make sure you read about these five mistakes you can never make with CPS!

CPS can remove children from the home.

The caseworkers at Child Protective Services can legally remove your children from your home, but only under certain circumstances.

They need to have a court order or be able to prove that the child is in imminent danger in order to remove a child. Imminent danger could include things like physical harm, sexual contact, neglect, or firearms left in the open.

CPS can terminate your parental rights.

It is a long and time-consuming process, but CPS can terminate your parental rights. The process takes at least 18 months and a lot of court involvement. However, it is possible.

CPS findings can impact your future.

If you are investigated and the case is decided against you, the information will be visible on certain types of background checks. It may not result in a criminal conviction, but it may prevent you from participating in volunteer positions where you have unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults.

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What CPS Can And Cannot Do (& What To Do About It) - Low Income Relief (2)

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Low Income Relief is staffed by researchers, not lawyers. If you need legal advice, our friends at JustAnswer may be able to help! Contact them today.

What CPS Can And Cannot Do (& What To Do About It) - Low Income Relief (3)

What CPS Cannot Do

You need to know what CPS cannot do before they show up. I have dealt with CPS numerous times, and they have never been forthcoming with their limitations.

CPS cannot force their way into your home.

Unless CPS has received a court order or believes there is an imminent threat to the child (such as they can hear or see the child being harmed).

CPS cannot test you for drugs without your consent.

You cannot be forced to submit to a drug test without your consent unless they have a court order.

However, there are many good reasons to consider giving consent to a drug test. Prior CPS caseworkers have stated that refusing a drug test in an attempt to avoid detection simply doesn’t work. The court order will test fingernails or hair instead of urine, and these other testing methods will reveal a longer history of drug use than a urine test.

Your Rights as a Parent

It is important to understand your rights because your best advocate is always yourself. You need to know what your rights are so that you can make sure they are not being violated.

You have the right to know the accusations against you.

Sometimes, caseworkers will neglect to inform you about the allegations against you. This is sometimes intentional and sometimes accidental. However, you have the legal right to know what exact allegations have been made against you.

In the past, I have had to escalate my call to a supervisor in order to get this information. Don’t give up, though. It’s important to know what you’re up against.

You have the right to refuse entry to your home.

Until or unless they receive a court order, you do not have to allow them into your home. You have the right to refuse to let them inside.

This is important. Many parents want to appear cooperative, so they let CPS do whatever they want. However, whatever the CPS caseworker sees can and will be used against you in court, even if it does not have to do with the original allegations against you.

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Refusing entry does not close the investigation. However, it may prevent you from facing other allegations.

You have the right to refuse to answer questions.

You have a right to refuse to answer any questions. Anything you say can and may be used against you, so sometimes it is better to remain silent unless you have an attorney present.

You can choose to answer some questions and not others. Simply deflect unwanted questions with something like, “I don’t think that question is relevant to the allegations.”

You can talk to the caseworker, if you want to do so. However, you need to remember that whatever you say is not confidential and can be used against you in court.

You have the right to an interpreter.

If you do not speak English, you have the right to an interpreter when interacting with CPS.

You have the right to seek legal counsel.

Contacting a lawyer is one of the first things you should do if CPS shows up at your house. If you cannot afford an attorney, check out this list of free and cheap legal resources.

Remember that many attorneys, including family law attorneys, offer free 30 minute consultations. We have used these services in the past, when we needed help navigating issues with CPS.

You have the right to attend all court hearings about your case.

You have the right to attend every court hearing about your case – and you should! If possible, bring an attorney with you.

You have the right to pursue placement instead of removal.

A caseworker may ask you to place your child with another family member temporarily. This is different than a court-ordered removal. If you choose to do this, you may be able to avoid the legal ramifications and additional CPS involvement created by mandatory removal.

If a court order has been secured, you can still petition the court to place your child with a family member.

Nicole Thelin

What CPS Can And Cannot Do (& What To Do About It) - Low Income Relief (4)

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Nicole is the owner and lead researcher for Low Income Relief. She has over 20 years of professional research and writing experience, and she has been solely dedicated to investigating low income topics for the last 10 years. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks!Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more. Her work has also been featured by Google for Publishers and other leading industry publications.


How do you answer CPS questions? ›

You need to ask the CPS Investigator to tell you exactly what the allegations are against you. Take your time during this portion and be thorough. Take very detailed notes and force the CPS Investigator to go slowly and point-by-point. You'll have to resist the urge to defend yourself or explain away the allegations.

What rights does the 14th Amendment have CPS? ›

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions as to the companionship, care, custody, and management of their children, which right is a protected liberty interest under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

What CPS can and Cannot do California? ›

CPS cannot enter your home without your permission

Although CPS can show up at a home at any point in time, they may not enter a home without the explicit permission of a parent or guardian. The only exception to this rule is if they have a court order or believe a child is in immediate danger.

What are good reasons to call CPS? ›

A child is subjected to willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment. A child is abused or exploited sexually. A child is neglected by a parent or caretaker who fails to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision.

Can you sue social services for emotional distress? ›

Yes, you can sue social services for distress and potentially other damages too. As well as the figure that's awarded for your psychological distress (which is known as non-material damages), you may also be eligible to receive material damages too.

What not to say to CPS? ›

Despite how emotionally charged these situations are, you must remain calm when interacting with social workers and police officers. Anything you say will be used in a CPS investigation as evidence. In many circumstances, it is best to say nothing at all.

How does CPS violate the 4th Amendment? ›

They use police presences to squelch and put down any citizen who asserts their 4th Amendment rights by not allowing an unlawful investigation to take place in their private home when no imminent danger is present.

What are some civil rights violations? ›

The most common complaint involves allegations of color of law violations. Another common complaint involves racial violence, such as physical assaults, homicides, verbal or written threats, or desecration of property.

What are the 5th Amendment rights? ›

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be ...

Can social services take my child away without evidence? ›

Can social services take my child away without evidence? No, there must be evidence in support of the application from social services when they are asking the court to remove your child/ren from your home.

What can CPS not do in California? ›

Although CPS workers may also show up to your house without notice, they cannot legally force their way into your home. They must have your explicit permission before entering. However, if they have a court order or believe that a child is in imminent danger, the CPS workers do not have to abide by this rule.

How long does a CPS case stay on your record in California? ›

Information from an inconclusive or unsubstantiated report shall be deleted from the index after 10 years if no subsequent report concerning the same suspected child abuser is received within that time.

What does it mean when CPS red flags you? ›

Red flags are warning signs to look out for that potential child abuse and neglect are occurring within a client's home.

Can I find out who reported me to social services? ›

To protect their confidentiality we can't provide details which may give away the identity of the person who made the report.

What are the 4 types of child neglect? ›

  • Physical Neglect. The failure to provide necessary food, clothing, and shelter; inappropriate or lack of supervision.
  • Medical Neglect. The failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment.
  • Educational Neglect. ...
  • Emotional Neglect.
Dec 27, 2018

What are the 5 signs of emotional suffering? ›

Common warning signs of emotional distress include:
  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little.
  • Pulling away from people and things.
  • Having low or no energy.
  • Having unexplained aches and pains, such as constant stomachaches or headaches.
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless.
May 16, 2022

What to do when social services won't help? ›

Challenging a decision
  1. Complain to the local authority by writing a letter.
  2. Complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.
  3. Ask a solicitor for help.
  4. Contact your MP to alert them to the problem you are having.

How do you challenge social services? ›

Challenging your needs assessment. If you are unhappy with an assessment, ask your local authority about their appeals process. You have the right to take someone with you to an appeal or assessment. This could be an advocate.

How much evidence does CPS need? ›

The evidence they gather includes documentary, physical, photographic and other forensic evidence and not just witness testimony. The police arrest and interview suspects. All of this produces a file which when complete the police send to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for review and a decision on prosecuting.

Should you be honest with CPS? ›

For that reason, it's essential to be honest with the family. Terry advises, “Remind the family that you are mandated by law to call this in. Alleviate the fears of parents (having contact with CPS). Honesty helps build relationship and trust.”

Can a parent refuse a forensic interview? ›

Most of the time, parents have the right to make choices for their child regarding police interviews and testifying or cooperating in a criminal case.

What legal powers do social services have? ›

Anyone can call Social Services and tell them about children they think are being abused and Social Services have a legal duty to investigate situations where a concern has been expressed about the child's safety and well-being.

Is the 14th Amendment the right to parent? ›

More recently, this Court declared in Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997), that the Constitution, and specifically the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, protects the fundamental right of parents to direct the care, upbringing, and education of their children.

What is not protected by the Fourth Amendment? ›

The Constitution, through the Fourth Amendment, protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. The Fourth Amendment, however, is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law.

What is an example of someone's rights being violated? ›

A civil rights violation is any offense that occurs as a result or threat of force against a victim by the offender on the basis of being a member of a protected category. For example, a victim who is assaulted due to their race or sexual orientation. Violations can include injuries or even death.

What are the 3 basic civil rights? ›

Examples of civil rights include the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, the right to government services, the right to a public education, and the right to use public facilities.

What is an example of violation of constitutional rights? ›

Constitutional rights violations can take a variety of forms, ranging from retaliating against you for expressing your First Amendment right to free speech, to arresting you without possessing probable cause to believe you have committed a crime, or even arbitrarily depriving you of your Fourteenth Amendment right to ...

What does the 7th Amendment do? ›

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

What is the 9th Amendment in simple terms? ›

The Ninth Amendment was part of the Bill of Rights that was added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791. It says that all the rights not listed in the Constitution belong to the people, not the government. In other words, the rights of the people are not limited to just the rights listed in the Constitution.

What is the 11th Amendment? ›

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

What kind of questions does CPS ask? ›

The caseworker will ask questions about neglect. These questions will evaluate whether your child has suffered any maltreatment, hunger, environmental or medical neglect. The caseworker will assess if there is food available to the child and if that food is nutritious.

How do I prepare for a CPS interview? ›

General questions
  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What made you want to work in CPS?
  3. What motivates you?
  4. What are you passionate about?
  5. Where do you see your career in five years?
  6. What are your current career goals?
  7. What is your working style?
  8. What is your communication style?
5 days ago

What does a CPS interview consist of? ›

The main subject areas that are focused on during a child-interview are: what actually happened during the alleged incident (or incidents) of abuse or neglect? whether the child feels safe in their home right now. whether the child believes that future abuse or neglect will occur.

What questions will social services ask my child? ›

What questions will a social worker ask my child?
  • How are you? This question is a common opening question to build rapport with the child. ...
  • What do you feel about mummy/daddy? This question is meant to elicit some of the emotions of the child. ...
  • Has mummy or daddy ever done something you don't like? ...
  • Conclusion.
May 18, 2020

What do social workers look for in a home? ›

1. Social workers assess physical aspects of the home environment. 2. This scale may appear judgmental, but workers necessarily make judgements about the safety, order and cleanliness of the place in which the child lives.

Can a social worker speak to my child without my consent? ›

The Social worker should normally ask for permission from a parent first, unless he/she has good reason to believe you may threaten the child or try to make them stay silent, or otherwise compromise their enquiries.

How do I pass a public service interview? ›

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for attending an interview:
  1. Know your experience.
  2. Demonstrate the required skills.
  3. Listen to the questions.
  4. Give examples.
  5. Ask questions.

Is parental permission required for CPS interview? ›

The CSW does not need parental consent or a court order. The interview can be as long as necessary to protect the child.

Can CPS force a forensic interview? ›

In most North Carolina counties, initial forensic interviews are conducted by CPS investigators because state law (NCGS § 7B-302) requires that, once it accepts a report that a child has been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused, CPS must have immediate face-to-face contact with the child.

Why would CPS do a forensic interview? ›

Forensic interviews are used by trained professionals to gather information about incidents of alleged child maltreatment in a manner that will yield factual information from the child so that child welfare workers can make case management decisions and interview findings can stand up to scrutiny in court.

What does a child protection caseworker do? ›

Caseworkers respond to reports about children or young people who may have been harmed or where there are safety concerns. The first priority is always the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the children or young person.

What to do if social services are wrong? ›

If you're worried about what to do, talk to someone, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau adviser about help to complain. If you are afraid about what might happen if you complain about social services, talk to an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Do judges always agree with social services? ›

The judge is likely unless he or she considers that the evidence before the court suggests otherwise to take full account of the recommendations made by children's services and the guardian.


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