Child Protective Services (CPS) is required to investigate reports of child abuse or neglect. This requirement can be found in California Welfare and Institution (W & I) Code § 328, § 16501(f), and § 16504.
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Child Protective Services
Child Protective Services, also known as CPS, is a department under California Department of Social Services that investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect in the State of California.
Initiating a Case
Child abuse cases can be initiated by either a Child Protective Services social worker or a law enforcement agency. Both have the authority to interview and investigate incidences of reported child abuse. This authority can be found under California Penal Code (PC) §11165.9 and § 11166.3.
Child abuse and child neglect is defined in California Penal Code § 11165.6, California Welfare and Institutions Code § 300, and California Department of Social Services’ Division 31-100 Regulations.
Notification of Child Abuse or Child Neglect
In every California county there is a county welfare department which must be maintained and operated on a 24 hour basis to take reports of children endangered by abuse, neglect or exploitation [W & I Code §16504(a)]. Under certain circumstance, Child Protective Services will make an “in-person response.” This can happen under one of the following circumstances:
- Immediate Response Report – the reporting party states that a child is in immediate danger. A CPS social worker will respond within 24 hours.
- Child at Risk – the reporting party states that a child is at risk but is not in immediate danger. A CPS social worker will respond within ten calendar days.
Factors to Determine if Placement in Protective Custody is Necessary
The Child Protective Services social worker investigating the report of abuse or neglect uses a Structured Decision Making (SDM) Tool, which is an assessment program that relies on actual evidence to ensure that every social worker is assessing the same items in each case, and that the responses to these items leads to specific decisions regarding child safety.
SDM tools guide the social workers to assess the child’s safety in the home and to determine whether there are any protective measures or reasonable means available that would allow the child to remain in the care and custody of the parents while ensuring the child’s safety.
Safety concerns that can trigger an investigation by Child Protective Services, include:
- Any physical or sexual abuse the child may have experienced by someone living in the home;
- Failure by a parent or guardian to protect a child;
- Failure to provide proper supervision for a child;
- Failure to provide basic provisions such as food, clothing, shelter or necessary medical treatment.
Child Protective Services Protective Custody
Should law enforcement or a Child Protective Services social worker have a reasonable belief that a child, as described in W&I § 300, cannot be reasonably protected, then removal is warranted. A child is removed from the custody of his/her parents by law enforcement or a CPS Social Worker and placed into protective custody with either a relative, a non-related family member, or in a foster home. Removal is warranted if there exists:
- Exigent Circumstances: Circumstances in which a social worker has reasonable cause to believe the child is a person described by WIC § 300 (b) or (g), and the child has an immediate need for medical care, or the child is at imminent risk of serious physical injury and there is no time to obtain a court order. [WIC § 306; Rogers v County of San Joaquin (2007) 487 F. 3d 1288]
- Reasonable Belief: Law enforcement can place a child into protective custody when the officer has reasonable cause to the believe the child is a person described by WIC § 300, and the child has an immediate need for medical care, or is at imminent risk of serious physical injury and there is no time to obtain a court order. [WIC § 306; Rogers v County of San Joaquin (2007) 487 F. 3d 1288].
Protective Custody Warrant
A written order by a judge or other judicial officer directing a law enforcement officer or a social worker to place a child into protective custody due to suspected abuse or neglect, or risk thereof [WIC § 340]. The court will make the order based on the petition and the written declaration (warrant application) of the social worker which contains the facts and evidence gathered during the investigation regarding the risk to the child.
Removal at the Initial Hearing
A court may order the removal of the child from the custody of the parents based on the evidence presented in a Detention Report. This is generally done when the children are not residing with their parents, but are residing in a safe place such that the current home environment does not endanger the child (i.e. parent voluntarily places child with a safe relative or at the crisis nursery, etc.).
Consent for Removal
A Parent, guardian, relative, or non-related family member can voluntarily and knowingly consents to the child’s removal.
Once a child is removed from the custody of the parents, CPS must locate temporary placement for the child. CPS will first assess whether or not there are able and willing relatives or non-related family members who may request temporary placement of the child and who pass the requirements set forth in W&I § 309. The requirements include an in-home safety inspection, a criminal records check, and a child welfare records check. If there are no relatives or no non-related family members, the child will be placed in foster care.
CPS must take steps to immediately notify all parents/guardians of a child’s removal and the date, time and location of the detention hearing; the hearing to determine if removal is necessary and with whom the child may be placed. CPS must make diligent and reasonable efforts to ensure regular telephone contact between the parent and child of any age, prior to the detention hearing, unless that contact would be detrimental to the child. The initial telephone contact shall take place as soon as practicable, but no later than five hours after the child is taken into custody.
CPS must obtain contact information from parents and/or the child about any additional relatives to consider for placement. And, CPS must conduct home assessments on all relatives that come forward.
A Detention Hearing before the County Juvenile Court will be held within two business days from the day of the child’s removal. At that hearing, the judge will decide whether or not the child will be returned to the parents or remain detained out of the home based on the information gathered during the investigation by CPS.
If the child is not returned to the parents and is detained out of the home the judge will order CPS to provide services to the family and to complete further assessment regarding the child’s safety in the parent’s home.
This is the next hearing which will be scheduled in 15 judicial/business days as defined by Section 361.3. If the child is returned to the home, the judge may order the family to participate in services until the Jurisdiction/Disposition hearing, which will be scheduled in 15 business days as defined by Section 361.3. Alternately, the judge could dismiss the petitions due to lack of sufficient evidence showing the child is in danger in the parent’s custody. A non-detention petition can be filed with the court to keep a child in their home, with specific court orders in place to keep the child safe.
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