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Child Protective Services Process

What is Child Protective Services?

If you're reading this there is a good chance that you have been involved with Child Protective Services (CPS). Whether that is your family directly, or someone you know, it can be a scary process for any family. I wrote this article to help families understand the role of CPS and what they might expect while working with their caseworker. While the thought of a CPS caseworker showing up at your home may terrify you, many caseworkers understand that families have their struggles, but, also their strengths. When a caseworker shows up to your home, it is typically on the worst day for a family. The caseworker's goal is to ensure that your children are safe and look at every angle that might put their safety at risk.

Child Protective Services is typically a civil agency that is mandated by the state to respond to allegations (reports) of abuse and neglect.


What is Abuse and Neglect?

Every state is going to have their own definition for both abuse and neglect as well as the various forms of them. Although I can't cite all 50 states statutes, I can help you better search for yours.

For example: I am unfamiliar with Texas so I go to Google.

I search: Texas Statutes Children Services.

I click the second search result:

I click the following link:

As a result we learn how Texas defines abuse and neglect as well as the investigation process.

Now, it is important to understand that every state is different because what may be seen as Neglect in one state may be Abuse in another. For example Ohio defines Domestic Violence as Abuse, where as in Colorado it is Neglect.

Abuse: My example of abuse is something that has physically happened to a child due to the actions of the parent or caregiver.

In one state any sort of bruising as a result of physical discipline may constitute as abuse. However, in another state if a mark is left to a "Non-Sensitive" area of the body as a result of discipline it may not be deemed as abusive. However, just know that some states Children Services are more gray and are able to use discretion in determining what is deemed as abusive or neglectful.

Neglect: My example of neglect is the actions and/ or admission's of a caregiver that places the child in an unsafe environment.

Types of Abuse and Neglect

So most people think "abuse" and think something has happened to a child. Most people don't understand there are many ways someone can abuse or neglect a child. So I'm going to run through a couple of types and give some random examples of each. This list is by no means exhaustive as there are many and will most likely vary by state.

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Physical Abuse: Benjamin, age 5, is disrespectful towards his mother. As a result he is spanked. Unfortunately, at the time of his punishment Benjamin moves and is hit in the leg which leaves a bruise.

The story may mean nothing if a mark/ injury is left in some states; depending on CPS criteria they may be forced to investigate if it meets their threshold or screening guidelines.

Sexual Abuse: Sally, age 11, reports to a friend that her mother's boyfriend has been touching her inappropriately for the past 6 months.

Emotional Maltreatment: Michael, age 14, informed his therapist that he is suicidal as his father has been yelling at him and screaming obscenities. The other day Michael was publicly shamed for having got a B on a test.

Domestic Violence (Depends on state): Natalie, age 23, and her husband Zachary, age 25, have been stressed out as a result of him having been laid off at his job. Zachary has since struggled to maintain sobriety. One evening Zachary pushes Natalie who had been holding their child, Eva 2 months old.

Environment Injurious: This can be any condition which had jeopardized the safety of a child. The previous example regarding 2 month old Eva could be considered neglect as the situation created could have led to her getting hurt. Environment Injurious is a catch all to any situation that created an unsafe environment for a child.

Medical Neglect: John, Age 43, fails to change his son's G-Tube despite knowing it is in need of replacement. As a result, his son, Jacob age 10, is diagnosed with sepsis.

Exposure: This is mostly related to drugs. For example: Timmy, age >0, was born exposed to; methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, cocaine, as a result Timmy experienced withdrawal symptoms.

Witnessing may have been different, for example, say 3 years later when Timmy is a toddler his mother overdoses on Xanex in front of him.

Prospective Harm: This typically relates to sexual abuse. CPS is concerned because Ashley, age 9, has been inappropriately touching her 2 year old brother. Although CPS is concerned about Ashley's behavior, they are equally concerned where Ashley had learned this behavior and is concerned that she too may have been sexually abused.

Dependency: This is much like "Environment Injurious" in that it is something about the child's environment that warrants the need for state involvement; without saying the child has been "Abused" or "Neglected" by the parent. Ohio is the only state in the U.S. that still has Dependency.

What happens when CPS is called?

Calling CPS on anyone can feel like a lot, especially if you know the family. However, should you have a concern as it relates to the safety of the children you should not hesitate to call. When you call a "Screener" or a caseworker will take down your concerns. They may ask for your information, however, you can also remain anonymous. It should be noted that your information will never be shared with anyone, it is against the law for any caseworker to disclose a "Reporter's" information. So rest be assured your information is safe.

The Screener will ask a bunch of demographic questions as well as what the concern is. Most often there is a specific "Incident" that happens the prompts a call to CPS.

Some states may do things differently as far as jurisdiction's go. Some states may have a "State Hotline" you can call and others will be the County in which the child resides. If parenting/custody has been established through Domestic Relations Court the case may open with the residential parent with concerns regarding the non-custodial.

Don't worry if you call the wrong County, you'll either be transferred or your information will be taken and then sent to the other county for "Screening".

Screening: This is the process in determining whether or not a Report/ Referral will be screened in for the "Intake" process. Typically this is a supervisor or a supervisor and a group of caseworkers. If the call is determined to meet the threshold to be opened for "Intake" it will be assigned to a caseworker and given a response time.

The response times will vary by state; In Ohio every case is met with a response withing 24 hours. If it is an emergency the caseworker will need to make a face-to-face contact with the alleged child victim within 1 hour.

In Colorado each case is given a set period of time in which the caseworker can respond based upon severity. 5 Working Days, 3 Calendar Days, and Emergencies are within 8 hours. Although those are the requirement's best practice is the day of the referral.

You can read your states statutes as to when a caseworker is required to respond.

Screened Out: This is what happens when a case does not meet the threshold for assignment. The information will stay documented in the states State Wide system. Should the family move to another County, that County will also be able to see that information should a new concern be reported.

Although the a report may be screened out the information can help in determining whether or not something will be screened in in the future. For example, chronic neglect or abuse, or say substance abuse. Some states may document reports differently depending on their protocol, for example in Ohio it may just be documented as a "Information Only".

Some states may have what are called "Program Areas" based on what is the concern. Ie. Program Area 5 (PA5) deals with abuse an neglect, PA4 deals with your "Delinquent Children". In Ohio that is considered "Dependency".

Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act

Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act are the federal guidelines created in 1974 which every state must follow. Also better known as CAPTA. If the state is in violation of those regulations the state may lose funding. Federal funding is then distributed; my guess would be the largest counties would receive more funding.


In the intake phase a caseworker will attempt to make contact with the family in the time frames. If contact can't be made initially, subsequent contact will continue to be made.

Now, a lot of states have transitioned to two types of case responses; Alternative Response (AR) and Traditional Response (TR). How a caseworker approaches a family may differ based upon how it was assigned. Alternative Response may start with a phone call to the family to address the concerns and to schedule a time to meet with the family. This approach is meant to be less invasive than a Traditional Response. Some cases are only screened in as TR, physical abuse that has led to a significant/ and/or moderate to severe injury, chronic abuse and neglect, sexual abuse etc.