Abuse and Neglect
Child Protective Services will investigate reports of children being abused or neglected and establish if the child is being mistreated. During this process a caseworker will interview the family members to get a better grasp about the best way to keep the child safe or remove them from an unsafe environment. At the conclusion of this investigation the caseworker will make a ruling on each allegation that was made which is called a "disposition."
Generally, dispositions fall into three categories:
- FOUNDED/INDICATED - Abuse or neglect occurred based on a prevalence of the testimony. This means when all evidence is taken into account, it is more than likely that neglect or abuse occurred. This information is passed on to a prosecutor to determine if criminal charges are appropriate, and this can be made a part of the abuser's permanent record. A Court is requested to order a permanent protective order barring access of the abuser to the child.
- UNSUBSTANTIATED - There is insufficient evidence to determine if something did, or did not, occur. Usually this option is selected if the case worker believes there is some truth to the allegations, but cannot prove them. Additionally, if the case worker believes that the neglect or abuse can be ameliorated through a parenting plan, or warning is sufficient, this is often the course he/she will take to conclude the investigation. Usually, a parenting plan is required, and certain steps by the "abusing" parent are necessary to allow continued residence with, or interaction with, the child. This falls below "founded," but can still have devastating effects on custody determinations. Note, a major difference between FOUNDED and SUBSTANTIATED (or its equivalent) is that a substantiated report is not available to criminal justice system, and can be not be seen on your record. It is stored in the private information database of child protective services only, and will be erased, generally, after seven years. However, any future allegations or investigations will have full access to all information, and this information makes it much more likely that a future complaint will result in prosecution.
- UNFOUNDED/RULED OUT -- This means the investigation showed that there was insufficient evidence, or no evidence, of abuse, and the case has been dismissed. Given the low threshold for proving abuse (more likely than not), a dismissal at this level usually precludes any further litigation (civil or criminal) on the matter.
During the course of the investigation, the caseworker will determine if there potential for future harm that by looking at the family members and how they behave in the home. There are generally two outcomes to this interview process:
- The caseworker can determine that the environment is safe and that the family has the means to keep the child protected at all times with the resources to do so.
- The caseworker will determine that the environment is not safe because they find visible threats and/or risks during their investigation. The family is then given the opportunity to enter into a family/parenting plan, or the social worker can ask the court to remove the child(-ren).
When the case worker believes the child is (a) in danger, or (b) an investigation has not yet been able to determine whether a complaint is credible, the case worker will create a voluntary parenting plan. The parenting (or family) plan will outline the restricted interaction between the alleged abuser and the children. Most commonly, it results in a no contact order between the alleged abuser and the child while the investigation is ongoing. You should request telephone or limited supervised contact, regardless, as a demonstration of your interest in the child(-ren).
You must not violate any agreed parenting plan, or the case worker will file with the Court for a protective order. That notwithstanding, you should be working on showing good faith and a serious intent on resolving the issue, not antagonizing the case worker. Where you fear that there is an imminent threat to the child, or that the case worker is not being reasonable, you must contact a lawyer immediately.
You may always seek judicial review of the parenting plan.