by: Attorney Kristi Tyler
In Texas, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS – the “Department”), is still often referred to as CPS (Child Protective Services). They investigate allegations of abuse and neglect of children.
For parents, grandparents, and guardians, the fact that CPS is investigating your family often brings many emotions including that gut-wrenching fear – fear that the State will take your child(ren) away.
Perhaps a CPS investigator shows up on your doorstep alone, or with a police officer. Maybe that phone call you did not answer turns out to be a CPS investigator leaving a message who urgently wants to speak with you – now. You may be asking yourself, “What should I do?”
CPS Visits Are Serious Matters
First, take every visit from DFPS seriously, but avoid the need to talk or explain. It is easy to become emotionally excited and feel the need to instantly dispel whatever concerns CPS has about you. However, remember to stay calm. Take a deep breath and a step back. Ask to see credentials. Ask for a business card, so that you or an attorney can follow up later when you are not under the emotional weight of the moment. Also, remember to ask for specific information – including, “What are the allegations against me.”
Next, remember that any time a report is made, CPS has a duty to investigate. Bear in mind that these reports often contain very little information. This is precisely why CPS wants to speak with you – they want you to talk. Know that anything you say can potentially be used against you. The basis of the allegations could also lead to criminal charges in some cases, so it is important to protect your rights.
Be polite, but know that you do not have to say anything at all. Until you can collect your thoughts and consult with an attorney, you can always suggest that another time might be better. On the contrary, you may believe that talking with the CPS investigator will help your case and show that you are being cooperative. Just remember that if you choose to speak, you can always end the interview when you choose.
You Don’t Have to Allow CPS Into Your Home
Also, know that you do not have to allow CPS into your home. If a caseworker or investigator appears at your door, and requests to come inside, you can politely decline. The CPS worker is not a police officer and can only enter your home if you give your consent unless there is a true emergency situation or a court order.
What if the police officer comes with the CPS investigator? Again, absent an emergency or a court order, you can politely decline the request. If you are told that there is a warrant or a court order, ask to see the document, and read it. Otherwise, you do not have to consent. It is important to remember that if CPS is at your home for concerns of neglect, allowing CPS to see your home and living conditions may actually strengthen the case against you. If you do consent to let CPS inside, remember that you may ask them to leave at any time. Also know that absent a true emergency or a court order, CPS cannot take your children from your home without your consent.
Finally, perhaps you have already talked with CPS and let them in your home. You fear that you said or did something that might hurt you in the investigation. It is also possible that when denied consent, CPS may attempt to get a court order and return. It is never too late to consult with an attorney who can come alongside to explain this process and to make sure that your rights are protected.
About Kristi Tyler
Kristi Tyler is a former Collin County prosecutor who served as a Misdemeanor Court Chief. Chief of Domestic Violence. As well as the Chief of the Felony Crimes Against Children Division. In that role she handled cases involving injury and sexual assault of children. Since joining Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian, Kristi has provided counsel to families involved with CPS investigations and juveniles facing charges in the juvenile justice system.