What is Child Protective Services? A Guide.

What you need to know about reporting physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

Jeanette Green May 21, 2015

We would all benefit from having knowledge about CPS so that, if we ever find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of witnessing abuse or having a child confide in us, we will know what to do to protect him or her.

It’s particularly important to understand the role of Child Protective Services if you are a foster parent who has legal guardianship over a child. Many of these children were removed from their homes by CPS because of abuse or neglect. There is a period of time that the parent(s) is/are given in order to prove their desire to parent their children and dedication to “fixing” the problem. The court may require counseling, therapy, or remaining sober for a period of time. As a foster parent, you are now the legal guardian of the child. You are responsible for his/her well-being. If anything, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the general idea of CPS and why they are helpful.

What is CPS?
1. What is CPS?

Child Protective Services, or CPS, is a county-run department. The primary responsibility of CPS is to intervene when claims of abuse--physical, sexual, or emotional--toward a child have been made. Its role is simply to protect children. CPS only works with families who have been reported regarding abuse or neglect. For example, if a parent or legal guardian hits her child with a broom during a moment of anger, someone could report that to CPS. However, if your child is at a friend’s house and in a moment of anger the friend’s parent hits your child with a broom, that could be reported to the police department--not CPS.

Who are "Mandated Reporters"?
2. Who are "Mandated Reporters"?

Anyone should call and make a report when there is suspected maltreatment of a child, but there are some who are mandated by law to report evidence of abuse or neglect. These individuals hold such a great responsibility that they can be held accountable if they don’t report cases of known maltreatment. Though each state varies slightly, generally those who are mandatory reporters are people who spend a lot of time around children. These may include social workers, teachers and other school personnel, doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors, child care providers, law enforcement officers, and foster parents.

What Should Be Reported?
3. What Should Be Reported?

Physical Abuse--When a child is being physically hurt, and not by accident, then any incidents of abuse can and should be reported. Especially if the incident leaves marks, bruises, broken bones, etc, it needs to be reported.
Sexual Abuse--Any inappropriate sexual initiation or contact between an adult and child should be immediately reported. This could also include sexual contact between different aged youth.
Emotional Abuse--One of the more difficult forms of abuse to prove, emotional abuse can be reported if there is unjustifiable mental suffering.
Neglect--This would be when a parent or legal guardian is not providing sufficient supervision where supervision is required and/or not providing things necessary for health or protection. For example, the child doesn't have adequate food, shelter, medical care, protection, etc.

Indicators/Signs of Child Abuse and/or Neglect
4. Indicators/Signs of Child Abuse and/or Neglect

The following are generally accepted signs or behaviors that may indicate abuse and/or neglect and would warrant follow-up.
• Marks, bruises, teeth marks, welts
• Poor hygiene
• Especially irritable or angry
• Lack of emotional control
• Acting out
• Wetting himself/herself
• Sleeping problems
• Anti-social behavior
• Sexually acting out at a young age
• Withdrawn
• Sudden changes in behavior
• Hoarding food
• Fear of going home or being with parents

Will a Child be Removed From the Home?
5. Will a Child be Removed From the Home?

Often people are afraid to call CPS. They are afraid that if they take action and make a phone call, a child will be ripped from his home and the situation will become even worse. Watching dramatic television shows and hearing extreme stories would easily lead one to believe that this is the case all the time.

However, the county usually wants to keep families together if it’s safe. Removing a child from legal custody from parents is generally a lengthy and prolonged process. A parent with legal rights will be given many opportunities to retain legal rights.

So, no. A child will not be taken from the home immediately, unless the situation is so dire and severe that it’s the only right thing to do. (And if that’s the case, as a reporter, you would be hopeful that the child would be separated from the parent.) But that is not a typical situation.

How to Make a Report
6. How to Make a Report

Making the report is fairly easy. Search online to find your county’s Department of Social Services or Department of Child and Family Services for the child abuse hotline. You can also visit the "Where to Report Sexual Abuse" directory, which lists these numbers for each state.

When you make the call, a caseworker will be on the other end of the line, ready to assist you. Her main purpose to look out for the best interest of the child. Even if you are unsure if an incident is reportable, you are able to call and discuss your concerns regarding the situation. The caseworker will decide if the information needs to be reported, and you can rest assured that you’ve done what you can.

What Happens When a Report is Made?
7. What Happens When a Report is Made?

If a CPS report is made and it meets certain criteria, the CPS caseworker will officially file the report. An investigation will begin. Parents or legal guardians will be interviewed. The child, as well as other children and adults in the household, may be interviewed as well in order to gather more information. Sometimes the department will visit the home or school. State law provides protection for parental rights during this time as well. A decision will then be made if the claim is unfounded or not.

If there is sufficient evidence of neglect or abuse, a Service or Safety Plan will be put into place for the family. This is a plan that is put into place that would allow for situational improvement.

Here to Help
9. Here to Help

We would like to think that everyone is good and that those we know and love are always safe. Certainly no one ever wants to be put into the situation where they worry about the safety of a child. But if you do find yourself in that situation, know that Child Protective Services has been set up to do their best to protect children and families by providing services tailored to their needs. Is it a perfect system? Well, what system is? But when we have the knowledge, or even a sickening hunch, that abuse or neglect is occurring, we are obligated to act. CPS is here to help.

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