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What Does CPS Investigate?

By: Attorney Kristi Tyler

In Texas, the Department of Family and Protective Services, which many still refer to as Child Protective Services, or CPS, investigates allegations of abuse and neglect of children by parents or other family or household members. So, how exactly does the state become involved?

The process begins when someone makes a report to CPS and believes there is abuse or neglect. Once CPS receives a report, it must determine if an investigation is needed. CPS will consider several factors, outlined below.

Do the allegations meet the legal definition of abuse or neglect, or show a risk of abuse or neglect?

In other words, if the allegations are taken as true, do they meet the legal definitions of abuse or neglect according to Texas law? CPS may also accept a report for investigation and assessment if there is a reasonable likelihood that abuse or neglect will occur in the foreseeable future. Additionally, CPS may conduct an investigation when a child’s parent or guardian fails to make reasonable efforts to prevent the child from being harmed by another person.

In Texas, child abuse or neglect can include specific acts or omissions.

Abuse can include:

  • Physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child;
  • Failure to make reasonable efforts to prevent an action by another that causes substantial harm to the child;
  • Sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare, including Indecency with a Child, Sexual Assault, or Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child;
  • Failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct harmful to a child;
  • The current use of a controlled substance in a manner or to the extent that the use results in physical, mental, or emotional injury to a child;
  • Causing, permitting, or encouraging a child to use controlled substances;
  • Offenses involving sexual conduct or sexual performance of a child.

Neglect can include:

  • Leaving a child in a situation where he is exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm without arranging for the necessary care for the child and the demonstration of an intent not to return;
  • Placing a child in or failing to remove a child from a situation that a reasonable person would realize requires judgment or actions beyond the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, or mental abilities and that result in bodily injury or a substantial risk of immediate harm to the child;
  • Failure to seek medical care for a child that results in or presents a substantial risk of death, disfigurement, or bodily injury;
  • Failure to provide the child with food, clothing, or shelter, excluding failure primarily caused by financial inability, unless relief services have been offered and refused.

CPS lacks authority to Investigate in several situations. In these situations, CPS may notify law enforcement if it appears that a crime may have been committed, or CPS may give the reporting person possible resources to share with the family. These situations include:

  • Absences from school without a valid excuse;
  • A runaway child;
  • School-age children who are home alone for part of the day (so called “Latch-key kids”) but whose parents have taken appropriate precautions to ensure their safety;
  • Situations involving a remote possibility of abuse or neglect, with no other concerns;
  • Insufficient supervision of a child according to community standards, but without substantial risk to the child’s life or health

After CPS has determined that a report indicates abuse or neglect, it must next determine:

2. Is the alleged abuser a parent, legal guardian, foster care provider, or other  adult responsible for the child’s care, custody, or welfare?

If the answer is “no,” then CPS may contact local law enforcement but may not conduct an investigation on its own.

3. Does CPS have jurisdiction?

Did the conduct occur in Texas, or is the child located in Texas and in need of protection? If not, then the appropriate jurisdiction may be contacted.

4. Is the child under 18 years of age?

Once a child reaches the age of majority and is recognized as an adult, then CPS loses authority to investigate and may refer the case to law enforcement.

If each of these four questions is a “yes,” then CPS will conduction an investigation.

If you are being contacted by a CPS worker and informed that you or a loved one is being investigated, it is always wise to reach out to an attorney who can keep you informed and advocate on your behalf.