Child Protection Cases: FAQ
If you are facing a matter involving child protection, it is a serious matter that can directly affect your parental rights, and consulting with an experienced Texas family law attorney is the best place to start. Having the following answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to child protection cases may help you find the best path forward for you.
What is Child Protective Services?
Child Protective Services (CPS) is a branch of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), which is a state agency that is designed to help ensure the safety of children throughout the state. Citizens are expected – and required – to report any instances in which they believe the welfare of a child is being jeopardized, and such reports can be made by calling 800-252-5400. If CPS receives a report regarding your children’s safety, it will instigate some level of investigation, which can vary considerably. Only in extreme situations are children removed from their homes, and in these cases, a Notification for Removal will be generated. The CPS caseworker may also provide you with information about this extremely serious matter.
What should I do if my child is removed?
If your child has been removed from your care, the time to act is now. You will have an opportunity to explain your side of the matter and to fight the removal soon after it happens. This is not a matter that you should wing – going in with an experienced family law attorney who is up to speed with the ins and outs of the situation is the right approach to take.
What will happen in court?
The court is your only opportunity to address the matter of your child’s removal from the home – you can not meet with the judge in your case privately outside of court – which makes bringing your strongest case and evidence as quickly as possible. At court, you will present your side of whatever it is that led to your children being removed from you. It is important to understand that CPS and the court are in the business of protecting children – not of punishing parents. The idea is to allow families the opportunity to create safe homes for their children. This does not, however, mean that CPS was correct in its initial determination, and skillfully advocating for your parental rights – and your children’s best interests (which includes remaining home with their loving parent or parents) is well advised.
What options does the court have?
The judge hearing your case may require your family to obtain outside help in an effort to ensure that it is safe to return your children to you. The court can also order that CPS retain temporary custody of your children. This means that CPS will, for the time being, be legally responsible for your children and – under the guidance of the Child Protective Court – can make decisions related to where your children will stay and what you will need to do to have them returned to you.
Are criminal charges involved?
The fact is that the same alleged issues that led to your children being removed from your home can lead to criminal charges – against you and/or your spouse, partner, the children’s other parent, or someone else in your household. If your situation leads to criminal charges, the matter is that much more serious, and you will need legal counsel with significant experience in criminal defense.
What happens after my children are removed?
If your children have been removed from your home by CPS, you will receive a copy of all the paperwork that has been filed with the court that is relevant to the matter. One of these forms is called the petition, which is the document that is created after CPS receives a report and investigates the matter at hand. In the petition, you will be named as the respondent, which is simply the term used by the court to designate you as either the parent or guardian of the children in question. The petition will list the allegation or allegations involved, which amount to statements regarding why the removal occurred, and which are typically located in the attached affidavit. To ensure that you understand the allegations involved and your case in general, it is important to address the matter with your family law attorney.
What are my rights?
The fact is that you have important rights that you should remember throughout this difficult process.
The Right to an Attorney
You have the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, you can request that the judge appoint one to you. It is important to remember, however, that if an attorney is assigned to you, you will be one of many, many clients, and it will be difficult to obtain the careful legal attention these complicated matters require. Your attorney will need to skillfully gather all the relevant evidence in your case, including eyewitness and expert testimony (as applicable) in his or her efforts to build your strongest case against the removal. The matter is far too important to leave to chance, and working with an experienced family law attorney who is committed to pursuing the best possible resolution of your case can make a considerable difference in its outcome.
The Right to Fight the Allegation
You have the right to fight the allegation that led to your children’s removal, and it is in your best interest to do so.
You Have Rights Regarding Administrative Matters
You have all of the following rights regarding administrative matters:
You have the right to notification regarding all relevant court hearings.
You have the right to attend all relevant meetings and court hearings.
You have the right to have an interpreter in court (if you need one because you are deaf or hearing impaired or because English is not your first language).
You have the right to discuss your case with your CPS caseworker and your assigned attorney (if you have not hired your own). Because both are likely deluged with other cases, it is important to be proactive in the matter, which translates to leaving messages and trying repeatedly.
In addition to your rights in the matter, you also have responsibilities that include:
You have the responsibility of taking the matter seriously.
You have the responsibility of attending all the court meetings and hearings.
You have the responsibility of cooperating with the family services plan set up for you.
You have the responsibility of staying in touch with your caseworker and keeping him or her apprised of your current telephone number and address.
Cases involving child abuse and neglect are one area of the law that tends to move quickly, and staying on top of what is happening in your case can make a significant difference in whether or not your children are returned to you – and when.
Who will be involved in my CPS Case?
Your CPS case will involve a variety of professionals.
Upon the removal of your children, you will be provided with a notice of removal that contains the name and number of the CPS investigative caseworker who has been assigned to your case. After about two to three weeks of investigative work, this caseworker will transfer your case to another caseworker who will take on all the following responsibilities:
Contacting you and providing you with important information
Visiting your children who have been removed regularly
Helping you understand the scope of the issues that led to your children’s removal
Helping you better understand and address the service plan that has been provided to you, which lists the actions you must take to have your children returned to you
If you have questions or concerns – or do not hear from your caseworker consistently – don’t put off contacting him or her.
Your Family Law Attorney
If your children have been removed from your home – or there is the threat that they will be – your dedicated Texas family law attorney will play an outsized role that includes all of the following:
Discussing your case with you and ensuring that you understand what is about to transpire before each court hearing
Speaking on your behalf (in the protection of your rights and in defense of your side in the matter) in court
Ensuring that you understand your full array of legal rights
Informing you about the hearings you need to attend and help you better understand what to expect at each
The CPS Attorney
Child Protective Services will also have an attorney who is tasked with demonstrating why your children need to be in CPS custody at this juncture.
The Attorney Ad Litem
The court will also appoint your children an attorney of their own – known as an attorney ad litem (AAL). The AAL has the responsibility of meeting with your children and advocating on behalf of their best interests.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate
In some cases, the judge may appoint what is known as a special advocate (the court-appointed special advocate or CASA). If your case is assigned a CASA, he or she will be a trained volunteer who will meet with you, your children, and the involved professionals and will subsequently report to the court regarding what he or she considers to be in your children’s best interests.
If the judge requires that your case goes to mediation, it means that you and your family law attorney, your children, and their AAL, and CPS and its attorney will all attempt to resolve the involved issues under the skilled guidance of a neutral third-party who is a professional mediator – in an attempt to resolve the matter outside of court.
What will my court schedule be?
You may be required to attend a variety of court meetings and hearings. Each is designed to allow the court – and other professionals involved in the matter – to obtain a clearer perspective on the issues at hand. The idea is to understand each side’s position and to make decisions that are right for your family. Each such meeting and hearing has a distinct purpose, and your case may include all the following:
Emergency Hearing – If your children were removed from the home, this is where the court will decide if they should remain in temporary custody until the adversary hearing. The emergency hearing must be held within one working day of the petition being filed.
Adversary Hearing – At the adversary hearing, which must be held within 14 days of removal (unless postponed for good cause), it will be determined if the emergency removal was appropriate, and if so, temporary orders for your children’s protection will be implemented.
Initial Permanency Planning Team Meeting (PPT) – At the PPT, which all involved parties can attend, the service plan – regarding next steps, such as reunification – will be developed.
Status Hearing – The status hearing is your opportunity to address the matter of your service plan, and its objective is to ensure that you know what is required of you in that service plan.
Initial Permanency Hearing – The initial permanency hearing is to ensure that you are on track with the service plan and to ensure that the matter is progressing according to the required schedule.
Permanency Hearing – If your case has progressed to this point, this permanency meeting will evaluate the progress you’ve made and will address the issue of whether or not the service plan should be changed (in accordance with the best interests of the children).
Final Hearing (Trial) – At the final hearing, the matter will be resolved.
In other words, it is a very challenging matter, and moving forward without skilled legal guidance is not advised.
Turn to an Experienced Killeen Family Law Attorney for the Help You Need
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a family law attorney who understands the critical nature of your situation and is committed to skillfully advocating for your parental rights throughout the legal process. To learn more, please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today.