Child Protective Services

When a report of child abuse is received by a child protective services agency, an intake will be initiated, and a decision to pursue the case. The call may have been a referral from a child abuse hotline, local law enforcement, a mandated reporter, or from other agencies responsible to report child abuse to the Child Welfare office of the Department of Human Services. Parents, victims, schools, and concerned citizens may call in a suspicion of child abuse. 

The first determination regards immediate risk of harm to the child. Safety is the first concern. Immediately after Child Welfare receives a report of child abuse disclosure, they are responsible for making sure that the child is safe from further abuse, including pressure from non-offending relatives who may not have wanted the child to disclose. Workers will interview family members to assess their willingness and ability to protect  the child. When the abuser is a family member, removal of that individual from the home during the investigation process is essential. 

Workers may work closely with the law enforcement agency during the investigation. If a forensic interview is scheduled at a local Child Abuse Assessment Center, Child Welfare and Law Enforcement will both be present, gathering information regarding ongoing disposition of the case, both legal and protective. It is important that mothers understand their role at this point. Victim's advocacy services can be helpful. Victim's services may provide information regarding the legal process and support during the process. Mothers will be interviewed by law enforcement, child protective services, the Child Abuse Assessment Center interviewer, and perhaps the physician that examines their child and the prosecuting attorney. Mothers must remain aware that they are being judged during this process. The primary focus at this point is two fold: determination if the allegations are true (founded) and providing safety to the child. Mothers are judged regarding their ability to believe the child, support the child, and supervise and protect the child. If the perpetrator is in the home, the mother's ability to actively deal with that situation and remove the perpetrator is closely observed. The mother's emotional state is also judged. It is essential that mothers present well with the investigators and cope with negative emotions. See What is Expected of Mothers

If the child appears to be in immediate danger, the child may be placed in Protective CustodyLaw enforcement can place a child in protective custody based on independent determination that the child's health, safety, and welfare is jeopardized. Child welfare may request the court to issue an order that the child be placed in Protective Custody. The child will be removed from the home and placed in shelter care. This could be a facility, foster care housing, or another family member such as a grandparent.  Depending on jurisdiction, the case must be presented to the court within a set period of time. Indigent parents will be offered court-appointed attorneys. The child will receive a court appointed special advocate for children (Link to The court will determine whether the child is returned to the home or continues in ongoing shelter care. These orders are temporary, often 30 days, and another hearing will be scheduled.  
A decision must be made regarding the allegation and substantiation of abuse. Child Welfare will participate in the investigation with Law Enforcement. A determination will be made that the case is:
  • Founded - Determination that the allegation of abuse is justified by evidence produced during the investigation, and the child has been and is at risk of abuse.
  • Unfounded - Determination that the investigation did not produce enough substantial evidence to conclude the child has been or is at risk of abuse.
  • Unable to determine - Not enough information was produced during the investigation to make a decision that the child is or has been at risk.

If the case is founded, and abuse occurred in the home, a determination will be made regarding the non-offending parent's "failure to protect." The custodial parent will be assessed regarding ability to protect the child from further abuse and maintain the safety of the child in the home. If the parent appears unable physically or emotionally to provide the child with appropriate care, Child Welfare may file a Dependency Petition with the court, alleging types of harm done to the child. Dependency fact-finding hearings may be scheduled regarding allegations of the Dependency Petition.

If a parallel dependency case is before the court, the child victim may be assigned both an attorney to represent her legal rights and an independent child advocate. The parent appears before the court regarding ability to provide effective parenting. Child Welfare must produce a plan concerning placement and reuinification services. The plan and disposition order is sufficiently detailed that all parties are aware of what remedial actions and compliance is expected of the parent. Ongoing services are provided to the child and the parent now involved with Child Welfare.   

Hospital hold
- An administrator of a hospital or licensed physician may detain a child without parental or court consent whether or not medical treatment is required. The medical professional must believe that permitting the child to be with the parent or other person having control of the child poses imminent danger to the child's safety. The hospital administrator or physician must notify Child Welfare within a defined period of time (e.g., 72 hours). Child Welfare may detain the child until the court assumes custody, and that period of time is also defined, usually no longer than 72 hours from the initial protective custody, excluding weekends and holidays. The child must be returned to the parent at the end of that period unless a Protective Custody order has been granted by the court or a shelter care hearing is scheduled. 
Law enforcement - Law enforcement may place a child in protective custody based on an independent determination that the child's health, safety, and welfare is jeopardized.
Court order -  A pick-up order may be issued by the court allowing Child Welfare to put the child in out-of-home placement.

Shelter Care - Temporary care is provided in a licensed facility, home of a relative, or another suitable placement authorized by the court prior to a finding of dependency.

Authorized Emergency Placement - A placement made by the administration of child protective services, a law enforcement officer, or physician or hospital administrator acting in accordance with law.

Shelter Care Hearing - This hearing is used to determine whether the child should remain in shelter care pending the dependency hearing. The hearing is usually held within 72 hours of the child's removal from parental care. Reasonable efforts must be made to provide notice to the parents or guardians. Rules of evidence are relaxed at shelter care hearings, and hearsay is admissible. Depending on the practice in a county, indigent parents have the right to appointment of counsel at the shelter care hearing or on a provisional basis prior to the shelter care hearing. The court should also appoint a volunteer CASA, guardian ad litem or attorney for the child. At the shelter care hearing, the court will order the child returned home or will order the child into ongoing temporary care. This will depend on issues pertaining to the child's safety: presence of a protective parent/guardian, adequate supervision, lack of serious threat or harm to the child by the parent or guardian. Shelter care orders are usually for a specific time (30 days), and additional orders must be entered for the child to remain in shelter care beyond that time period. 

Dependency Fact-finding Hearing - Dependency Fact-finding Hearings are often combined with the Dependency Disposition (see below). This is a hearing or trial on the allegations of the dependency petition. Rules of evidence apply. In dependencies, a fact finding must be held within a given number of days (example: 75 days) of filing the petition unless a continuance has been requested and justified. 

Dependency Disposition Hearing
This hearing usually occurs within 2 weeks after dependency is established. The purpose is to determine the child's placement, visitation, and services offered to the child and family. Rules of evidence are relaxed at the disposition hearing, and hearsay is admissible. The agency must provide a plan concerning placement and reunification services. The plan and disposition order will provide detail regarding actions and services required by the parents. These may include attendance at parenting classes, participation in substance abuse or other counseling, and making sure that the child attends medical and counseling appointments.  



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