What happens now that I've been reported to CPS?
January 21, 2010 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I was reported to CPS. The case was closed, but now what?

Due to a misunderstanding and "mandated reporting," my child's teacher reported me to CPS. The investigator talked to my child at school and then called me. After talking to me she immediately closed the case and said it shouldn't have gotten that far. I'll be getting official paperwork from the investigator, including a letter I have to sign (she stressed this), but it could be weeks as this is a low priority.

I've written to the teacher to thank them for looking after my child and saying I understand she had to do it; she wrote back saying she knows I'm a good mother and wouldn't hurt my child. I'm not mad, not looking for revenge, and think this actually was a sign that the system worked. I just want to know what kind of a record I'll have and what it means.

What are the implications of having had a CPS case opened? I know my name will stay in their files in case they get called again, but who else will know? For how many years? I do volunteer work with children that requires me to have criminal checks -- will it show up then? What is this letter I'll have to sign?

I'm in Washington state. I'm happily married to my child's father, and have never had any encounters with the law. I've tried to look up information about CPS on-line but am having problems finding information in all the ranting.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a neighbor who had a CPS investigation after she brought her 4-month-old into the ER with a burned foot. She had the kid in a front carrier and forgetfully leaned over the stove, causing the little boy to put his foot right on a turned-off-but-still-quite-hot burner. But since burns in infants are almost always abuse, they called CPS. The CPS investigator found that the injury and circumstances were absolutely aligned with her story, and literally gave her a hug and said "thank you for being the best case of my month" and closed the case.

It hasn't stopped her from volunteering at her children's school, or from providing child care in her home. It hasn't affected her in any way whatsoever. She tells people that if they do a background check on her, they will find this case, and that they can contact her to provide permission for the details to be shared. The school did, but nobody else has.
posted by KathrynT at 11:12 AM on January 21, 2010

As a social worker I've had to get child abuse clearance checks done in order to work in the public schools and, yes, at least in the state of Pennsylvania this information would show up. You can take a look at the actual form by clicking through to the PDF on this page. The pertinent part of the form (there are check boxes next to each sentence on the form):


Applicant is named as the perpetrator of a ''Founded'' child abuse or school employee reportwhich occurred in the last five years. Applicant is named as the perpetrator of a ''Founded'' child abuse or school employee reportwhich occurred over five years ago.

Applicant is named as the perpetrator of an ''Indicated'' child abuse or school employee report. Applicant is not named as the perpetrator of any child abuse or school employee reportcontained in the Statewide Central Register.

I would imagine your encounter with the child welfare system would not qualify as founded. I don't know if being named as a perpetrator but not being founded is grounds to disqualify you from working with children. Of course, there could be entirely different procedures in your state.
posted by The Straightener at 11:17 AM on January 21, 2010

I was reported in a similar misunderstanding type situation. They said the record of the report would be "expunged", and it apparently was as it never showed up anywhere later. I got licensed as a teacher in that same state (NY) a few years later, I also subsequently worked with kids in another state (MA) in a position that required a thorough police screening and nothing came up.

Every state is different, you might consider calling a legal aid office, or a legal clinic at UW Law School to make sure it will all work.
posted by mareli at 11:19 AM on January 21, 2010

If, when you receive the documentation from CPS, you are unsure of any wording, have it reviewed by your lawyer. Please save whatever documentation you receive from CPS stating that you've been cleared of wrong-doing as a result of their investigation.
posted by onhazier at 11:21 AM on January 21, 2010

I'm in Michigan; when I was reported to CPS--actually, it has happened to me twice, because I am a bad, bad mother--the social worker to came to speak to me said that they have a grading system for the outcome of events, which basically goes from 1, meaning the call was completely without merit, to 5, which is "get the kid the hell out of the house now." Anything under, I think it was 3 (details may be fuzzy) will not show up in a background check, and in fact I have had background checks since then for working with children, and adopting one, with no problem. It may be different where you are. I found the social workers I spoke with both times to be generally very willing to share information, so you might talk to the caseworker who contacted you for an explanation of how exactly this applies to you.

I think my first case was a "2," meaning "mom did something wrong [I'd dispute that] but it was an unusual occurrence and she promises never to do it again."
posted by not that girl at 11:26 AM on January 21, 2010

On re-reading, my second case was much like yours--a doctor reported me because he believed he had to, even though he believed my baby's burn was an accident. The social worker I eventually spoke to--they weren't even going to follow up, I called them because I was so tense waiting for the SW to show up at my house--said that this is a misunderstanding of the meaning of mandated reporting, that the doctor was not obligated to report an injury he believed was accidental. Just sort of FYI. The SW seemed kind of exasperated about it; said they got lots of reports like that and he wished people in those situations had a clearer understanding of the circumstances under which they are obligated to report. My then-pediatrician believed he was required to report any incident of a certain kind of injury, but the SW said that wasn't true.
posted by not that girl at 11:29 AM on January 21, 2010

Argh! Forgot to clarify that I and my neighbor live in Washington state as well.
posted by KathrynT at 12:07 PM on January 21, 2010

I knew a woman who's child choked on a penny and the doctor called CPS (on the theory that she was feeding her child change, apparently). The woman was just hysterical -- after a very stressful trip to the ER, to have to deal with CPS -- but because it was unfounded and the case was "cleared," it never came up again. She had no further interaction with CPS on that or any other matter, no check-ins or check-ups. She later became an elementary school teacher, and it is not on her record.

Woman in another state with a similar situation (paramedic reported the house was in a state of "extreme disorder" when she collapsed and required emergency surgery like an hour after returning from a sudden family funeral -- so of course the house was in extreme disorder!). CPS's investigation was slightly more involved because the claims were about the state of the home, but it was also quickly cleared and no longer appears on her record and there is no further involvement. (It has, however, made her reluctant to call 911 ever again, sigh.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:25 PM on January 21, 2010

Seconding that your case was probably "unfounded." I interned last semester at the local CPS. Cases that are investigated and found to be without merit are marked as unfounded. This means there was never a case opened to begin with. This shouldn't affect you legally in any way in the future (but IANAL, IANASocialWorker).
posted by bluloo at 2:32 PM on January 21, 2010

The paperwork you receive from DHS may explain whether or not anything will go on your record; if not, that's certainly a question that's appropriate for the investigator, as they will know the applicable laws/codes. I found this form online (warning: .pdf), and it specifically states that the release is for *founded* reports of child abuse or neglect. As your case was unfounded, it's likely that it will never even show up on a background check.
posted by epj at 5:58 PM on January 21, 2010

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