State child protection agencies provide procedures and regulations for dealing with cases of child abuse or neglect. These agencies exist in every state in the United States.

Any reports of abuse should be made to a state child protection agency. The agency will investigate the allegations and take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and welfare of the child.

The names of these types of agencies will vary by state. In some states, the agency is known as Child Protective Services (CPS). In other states, it may be known by other names, including:

  • Department of Child Services (DCS);
  • Department of Human Services (DHS);
  • Department of Children and Families (DCF); or
  • Other names as chosen by the state.

Their function, regardless of their name, is essentially the same. A child protective services attorney can help with cases in which an individual is being investigated by CPS or a similar agency. An attorney will ensure the rights of the parents are protected during the investigation.

What is the History of Child Protective Services (CPS)?

Before the 20th century, child services agency functions were largely undertaken in the United States by local or charitable organizations. A Federal Children’s Bureau was formed in 1912 to deal with child abuse cases. Concern regarding child abuse or neglect issues rose and by the 1960s, 49 states had enacted child abuse reporting laws.

The Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act of 1974 was passed and required abuse reporting. In response to this Act being passed, states began forming modern Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies.

What are Some State Child Protection Procedures?

Although every state has its own agency, regulations, and laws, there are general procedures that most states tend to follow. In general, the process follows the same steps, including:

  • A report is made to the states Child Protective Services agency. Individuals in certain professions who work with children are required to report abuse or neglect;
  • Following a report, the agency must investigate the allegations to determine whether or not they are true. The agency must gather all facts available to determine the validity of the report. The type of information gathered may include:

    • interviews with relevant parties;
    • observation of relevant parties and their interactions; and
    • any relevant documents;
  • The agency has a certain amount of time to respond to the allegations, depending on the nature and severity of the allegations, according to the laws of the state;
  • If the agency determines the risk to the child is low or nonexistent, they may work with the family in order to improve their situation;
  • The agency may also make a finding that there was no child abuse or child neglect;
  • If the agency finds that there is reason to suspect abuse or neglect, they may temporarily remove the child from the home;
  • Typically, children will remain with their parents unless the situation is high-risk;

    • There is a presumption followed by courts that children should remain with their biological parents. Agencies will work with the parents to allow this to occur;
  • In high-risk cases, however, the agency may have to go through the juvenile court to take action to ensure the child’s safety; and
  • In the worst cases, if an agency cannot work with the parents to improve the child’s situation, the court will be involved in the process in order to ensure that the child is kept safe.

    • In these cases, the child may be permanently removed from the home and placed in a group home.

What Types of Abuse should be Reported?

There are several types of abuse or neglect that must be reported to the state’s child protection agency. These include:

  • Physical abuse, which is the non-accidental injury of a child by physical force, perpetrated their parent or other caretaker;
  • Emotional abuse, which involves using criticism, rejection or other confidence-damaging tactics to harm a child;
  • Sexual abuse, which involves enticing or coercing a child into sexual activity;
  • Neglect, which involves ignoring or failing to fulfill a child’s basic needs, which may include:

    • food;
    • shelter;
    • medical care
    • education needs; and
    • emotional needs;
  • Abandonment, which occurs when a child is left alone and the parent’s whereabouts are unknown; and
  • Substance abuse, which may include:

    • a who exposes a child to a substance they are abusing prenatally;
    • manufacturing drugs in the child’s presence; or
    • abuse which prevents the parent from properly caring for the child.

A CPS lawyer can assist with reporting any child abuse or neglect issues. A lawyer will be familiar with the reporting process and interacting with CPS.

Who is Required to Report Evidence of Child Abuse?

Any individual who is aware of a situation involving child abuse or neglect should report it to their local child protective agency. There are some individuals, however, who are required to report abuse or neglect based on their professions. In these cases, there may be a mandatory reporting requirement.

The following professionals are required to report abuse or neglect if they become aware of it:

  • Medical or hospital personnel;
  • School officials;
  • Social service workers;
  • Residential care workers; or
  • Law enforcement personnel.

What Are Some Legal Consequences of False Accusations of Child Abuse?

A false accusation of child abuse can be extremely damaging for all parties involved. False accusations of child abuse or false allegations of child abuse often occur when a party is wrongfully attempting to obtain custody of a child.

If an individual wrongfully accuses another of abuse, it may weaken the amount of trust in an already strained relationship. In addition, false accusations of abuse may also lead to legal consequences for the party making false claims.

Common types of false accusations include false accusations of spousal abuse and false accusations of child abuse.

A false accusation of child abuse may be particularly damaging to the child’s psyche. For example, if a parent accuses the other parent of child abuse, the effects of exposure to such harmful threats may have lasting consequences for the child. The child may be required to undergo intensive physical or medical examinations to determine if the charges are true.

If a party is caught making false accusations of abuse in connection with court proceedings, there will be serious legal consequences. Consequences may include perjury charges, as it is illegal to knowingly make false statements while under oath during court proceedings.

Perjury is a criminal charge that may be punishable by a jail sentence or criminal fines. In addition, perjury may include making a false statement during a deposition outside of court or making a false written representation in a court document. In some jurisdictions, the crime of perjury includes making false statements in any legal setting, not just during a trial.

False allegations of abuse may come in other forms, including:

These violations may result in severe legal consequences, which will vary depending on state and local laws.

Intentionally causing another individual to commit perjury is subornation of perjury and is also a criminal offense. For example, forcing a witness to lie on the stand, or forcing a child to testify in court in support of a false claim may result in subornation charges.

Do I Need an Attorney Experienced with State Child Protection Issues?

It is extremely important to hire an experienced family lawyer for any state child protection issues. If you are experiencing issues regarding a report of child abuse or neglect, the first step you take should be to hire an attorney.

An attorney will advise you of your rights, assist you in having your child returned to your custody, if possible, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.