What does Child Protective Services do with their data?
May 6, 2013 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Wife and I are now in the Child Protective Services database in Colorado after someone observed bruises and blisters on our three year old and spoke to a 'mandatory reporter' about it. I want to know what is retained in the record/database, how long is it retained, and who can access it. My own attorney was not helpful in answering these questions.

My wife and I were recently present as a (formerly) trusted leader of our community explained that as a mandatory reporter she had to report hearsay from someone else in the community about bruises and blisters on our 3-year-old. We never noticed anything noteworthy on our active (regularly skiing, sledding, trampolining generally rambunctious) dry-skinned (eczema diagnosed) daughter, nor did any of her regular full-time professional daycare center care providers. Please assume that this was a reckless report, perhaps intended to make us feel unwelcome in the community. In the ~2 weeks since the report we have not been contacted by CPS.

Our bigger concern is the generation of a CPS record, and potential personal and professional repercussions of the presence of this data in a world where information moves in an increasingly frictionless manner. Who can access this data, and for what reason? Can the FBI, in conducting a federal security clearance background check? Are these databases rigorously secure against hackers? How long is the data retained? How can I find an attorney to assist with these questions? For instance, is there some pro-active measure that can result in sealing or deleting the data (similar to the legal rights one has with a credit report?)

My own attorney was not helpful in answering these questions. She did make a referral to another attorney, but explained that the referral was to an attorney who works with CPS as a child advocate. How can I be confident that I'm paying attorney fees to someone who understands the data-side issues of CPS? (Or alternatively, is this information easily accessible, and I just haven't found it yet.?)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you called CPS to ask them directly? That's where I'd start.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:05 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could start by contacting Jody Martinez regarding the complaint procedure, as recommended here.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:06 PM on May 6, 2013

I think this varies state to state. I will tell you that in my state, I cannot cruise the internet and find CPS records. And in my experience, this is not an area the feds check when they are doing background checks. Having said that, in my state and many others these records are retained because they indicate how the CPS agency is doing its job. There is a bright side to this: CPS will normally make a determination as to whether the mandatory report was founded or not, and from what you say the ultimate record should reflect it was not.

And to answer your last question, an attorney who works with CPS should be familiar with their records retention policies and any applicable statutes.
posted by bearwife at 1:13 PM on May 6, 2013

Please assume that this was a reckless report, perhaps intended to make us feel unwelcome in the community. In the ~2 weeks since the report we have not been contacted by CPS.

Are you sure that they did make a report? Maybe they were just attempting to bully you. Your best bet, in any case, is to contact CPS directly.

While I understand that this whole thing probably has made you (justifiably) furious, I'd advise initially coming at CPS from a very friendly, genial, cooperative standpoint. Make it clear you'd just like to find out what's on the official record and are not interested in giving anyone a hard time. That doesn't preclude you from eventually giving the right person a hard time if they deserve it, but you won't get anywhere if you start berating the receptionist about cybersecurity.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2013

This absolutely varies by state, and CPS should be able to tell you what their data protection and record retention policies are.

Anecdotally, I will tell you that I recently worked for a HIPAA compliant social services agency that assisted children with autism and other developmental disabilities, a number of whom were in foster care and/or had documented ongoing contact with CPS. To complicate matters, one of our senior staff people was also married to a high ranking CPS employee.

Even with all that, it wasn't unusual for us to be totally unable to access any information about what had been reported to CPS even when it had a direct bearing on therapeutic treatment the child was receiving from licensed health care workers. So there's that. Also, I know that many reports that teachers made about relatively serious issues (ie: clear signs of drug use in the home in the presence of the child; children who clearly did not get enough to eat at home; children who would return to the facility in the same (dirty) clothing they'd been wearing the previous day) that were judged by our state CPS to be "non-actionable" -- basically not serious enough for CPS to even send a caseworker to check.

I'm sure you've seen this, but here is an outline of the colorado mandatory reporter guidelines. Note that it just says "knowledge of" and not "first-hand knowledge of" conditions that could result in harm to a child. So if the person in question fits in any of the categories listed, it may just be possible that they're simply doing what they feel the law requires them to do.

I understand that you feel that you're being bullied here, but I personally would never fault someone who was truly a mandatory reporter for making a report, even a vague or incorrect one. Reporting is often a "better safe than sorry" type of activity. CPS gets, I can assure you, thousands (maybe even tens of thousands) of vague, unfounded, and generally weird reports and they triage them. It can be scary, as a parent, to have "a report" made against you, but my personal experience is that even with well-founded allegations there are rarely any professional repercussions (we had families with active CPS cases where a parent retained military clearances, for example).

Certainly a lawyer who specializes in family law in your state can help you identify the statute and policy that governs CPS in your state.
posted by anastasiav at 2:03 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm sure it varies by state, but I thought it most places CPS was required to investigate within a very small time window - days not weeks. What good is reporting an endangered child if CPS takes 6 weeks to look into it?

I doubt there has been a report, and my general paranoia says you probably shouldn't inquire about it yourself as it could cause somebody in CPS to wonder why you are concerned.
posted by COD at 2:07 PM on May 6, 2013

My ex made so many calls to CPS trying to get me in trouble I knew all of the investigators by name.

I used to worry that there would be broader repercussions, but those never materialized. I've been offered jobs with places that did extensive background checks and no one mentioned it.

I'm sure the data retention varies state by state, and yeah, I bet if you cause enough trouble, the FBI will surely have a look at those reports.

I'm with you on the paranoia inducing aspects of being so investigated. Don't sweat it, though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:12 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm going to agree with COD here. Check into how it works in your state but my mother works for our state CPS and here ANY report of abuse must be investigated within 24 hours. This is why they have social workers on call on the weekends.

If you haven't heard anything and the laws are the same in your state as they are mine, I'd hesitate to place the call to CPS.
posted by youandiandaflame at 2:17 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't call them! Let this dog lie.

Employment background checks check criminal court records; sometimes credit bureaus. I've never heard of one that included CPS.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:27 PM on May 6, 2013

I'm pretty sure things have to go through the court system or a credit bureau for it to show up on any kind of background check.

And I kind of think there is something fishy going on. I'm not super educated about mandatory reporting laws, but it seems like rumor/hearsay is not something anyone must report.

It kind of seems like the conversation would go like this:

Reporter: I'm calling because I'm a mandatory reporter and I heard that $Kid has bruises and blisters.

Agency: Who did you hear it from?

Reporter: A member of my community group.

Agency: How does that person know $Kid?

Reporter: They sometimes see $Kid at the community center.

Agency: And what, exactly, did they observe?

Reporter: I told you what they told me, I don't have any more information.

Agency: Thank you for the call, we'll look into it.

*Maybe* they would go the extra step and contact the person and verify the story.
posted by gjc at 4:46 PM on May 6, 2013

Your attorney was perfectly helpful. Making a referral is what you do when a client needs expertise you don't possess. Go ahead and see the attorney to which you were referred. Your problem is simple and in broad outline common (allegedly mistaken or malicious abuse or neglect reports, and how they ricochet through the mandatory reporter system, come up all the time); a practitioner in your county will know immediately if there is something you can do, and won't take you on (or charge you) if there's nothing to do.

However that goes, take caution with your actions, and make sure you and your attorney have considered all potential consequences. Your somewhat vague references to your "community," its leader and potential enemies within it make me think you might be in some minority or outsider group, and CPS are not always deferential or understanding to such people, and might regard overt corrective action as suspicious in itself.
posted by MattD at 6:00 PM on May 6, 2013

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