No one expects to be falsely accused of child abuse or neglect; yet bogus cases are reported daily to Child Protective Services. My own daughter falsely reported my husband for physical abuse after he refused to let her call her boyfriend one evening. The next day, CPS and the police were on our doorstep. Unfortunately, CPS has no way of sorting the real cases from the false ones without performing an investigation. While you cannot necessarily avoid an investigation, you can take steps to be prepared for the knock at the door.
First, contact an attorney. CPS may tell you that there is no need for legal counsel, or that it makes you look “guilty.” However, CPS does not have your best interest in mind. Their job is to prove the case or dismiss it. If CPS has contacted you in the first place, you should not panic, but do need the representation of an attorney. Many attorneys will offer a free consultation, and then propose the retainer fee they would need to represent you. Any attorney will tell you that you are under no requirement to let CPS into your home unless they have a valid warrant. Do not allow them to threaten you or coerce you into inviting them inside.
In case they have a warrant, make sure your house is clean. CPS workers are trained to look for any signs of neglect. Are your dishes done and counters wiped off? Is the floor swept and the trash taken out? Is your laundry done and hung up neatly in the closet? These are all things that a CPS caseworker will note in her report. You do not need to hire a professional cleaning service to come in, but you should ensure that your house is in clean, livable condition.
Furthermore, while you should make every effort to cooperate with CPS, do not volunteer any information. Even if you have not been able to retain an attorney, you will still need to talk to CPS. Print out a copy of your state’s recording laws and, if your state allows it, use a recorder to tape the entire conversation with CPS. If they tell you that it is not permissible to record the conversation, show them the state law. Make them ask the questions and stick to brief answers. Most importantly, do not lie to them or else it will come back to bite you in the end.
Obtain a notebook to document every conversation and interaction with CPS. Do not allow the caseworker to fool you into trusting him or her. Write down every thing that is said and do not allow them to interview your child without being present. Teach your child to never talk to strangers, even at school. Another way to prevent this is to write a letter to the school stating that no one is allowed to talk to your child without your written permission. If you do not trust your child’s school to carry out your wishes, have the child carry a laminated card that states no one can interview or question your child without an attorney and yourself present.
Additional preparedness can be obtained by researching CPS and false allegations of abuse on the Internet. Several websites link to very helpful resources and information. Do not think that this cannot happen to you or that CPS will immediately determine your innocence. The most important advice I can give you is to not admit to any thing and do not plead guilty to a crime you did not commit. CPS is infamous for telling families that they can have their children back if they “just plead guilty,” but find that doing so unleashes a new kind of hell.
Even if you think that CPS will never bother you, implement these guidelines and tips to make sure you are ready if they do. No one is immune or overlooked when it comes to child abuse. Know your state laws and make sure you are ready. You could very well be the next one to find CPS at your doorstep.