What happens next when you call child protective services?
March 30, 2008 6:45 PM   Subscribe

What happens when you call child protective services?

We've just discovered that a single mother close to us is addicted to - and dealing - oxycontin. So we're going to call CPS. But we'd like to know what to expect, in terms of timelines and "what happens next," as the father of one of the children has been known to be violent at times. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This depends a lot on the state/country you're residing in. Some places require even the merest mention of abuse to begin an investigation, others require physical evidence.
posted by Nelsormensch at 6:52 PM on March 30, 2008

In Pennsylvania the hotline operator would open an investigation if you provided them with enough evidence to support your allegation. Once an investigation is opened a social worker would be sent to do a home inspection. A child welfare home inspection is not exhaustive. It's not a sting, they don't toss the place. They check the fridge to make sure there's food, will inspect the physical condition of the children for signs of abuse or neglect and will take do a general walk around the property to make sure the conditions are safe. They don't go in drawers looking for pills, they don't set up stings or busts. Basically, if she's good at masking her addiction and her black market business (i.e., doesn't leave piles of pills or chopped lines of OC out on the table, doesn't have baggies for delivery around, keeps a relatively clean house, etc.) this won't necessarily get the results you're hoping for.

If you are that concerned about the children you should call the police. If she is arrested for possession and distribution and the father is unsuitable to take her children they will wind up in the child welfare system. If her children are taken from her they'll likely be set up with some interim shelter arrangement while family court decides where to put them. If she has family who is suitable and willing to take them, they'll probably get placed with relatives, otherwise they go to foster care.

This is a really serious decision you're making. Do not do this unless you absolutely know that you're allegations are well founded.
posted by The Straightener at 7:12 PM on March 30, 2008

In CA, everything The Straightener said is true.

If you feel that the children are at risk because of the mother's drug use or the father's violence, you should definitely call -- IF AND ONLY IF you've witnessed actual abuse or neglect by either parent. (Kids are dirty, underfed, injured, or you see physical violence, etc.)

From a CPS perspective, if the mother is dealing or using drugs, the drug use has to directly affect the kids. Child welfare social workers often stress that "we don't tell parents not to use drugs or alcohol," meaning "use if you're going to use -- just take care of your kids while you're at it."

[I worked with some social workers a few months ago who told me about being called to the house of some marijuana farmers in rural CA. Neighbors knew what the parents were up to and were concerned about the effects on the kids. The social workers did a home visit and, even though they saw a serious and healthy crop of pot, very quickly determined that these were some of the best-cared-for kids in the county. They did not report the parents to law enforcement. That simply isn't their job or their concern.]

Also, as The Straightener said, if you make a call that gives them enough reason to open a case, they'll start the referral. From there, though, they have to find sufficient evidence of abuse or neglect, else the referral stays open for 30-60 days (depends on jurisdiction, I think?). Within that 30-60 days, they can follow-up to make sure things are still cool in the home. And during that time, they can provide referrals for community services. The parents may or may not access those services. (But if the threat of the kids being removed from the home is loud enough, they're more likely to.)

For the most part, CPS workers really bristle at their reputation as "baby snatchers." (That's how one social worker described it to me recently.) They'll do everything they can to avoid removing kids from the home and sending them to foster care. And this is because the foster care system SUCKS.

Also, you didn't give details of your concerns, but you seem to be worried more about the possibility of neglect (the mom's drug use/dealing) than actual abuse (the father has been violent in the past -- but have you seen it?). CPS doesn't deal with drug use. That's law enforcement's job. And if law enforcement gets involved -- i.e., if the parents are busted for drugs -- that often means immediate removal of the kids. Some counties (in CA, anyway) have special taskforces set up to deal with these situations; social workers accompany cops on drug busts.

Those are the things you're looking at. If you call and the situation sounds serious enough that they open an investigation, you're looking at a long timeline before anything real happens. The parents may get treatment in the meantime, but it's not a given. If your concerns are valid and the parents can't get it together, the ultimate ending is that the kids will be sent to foster homes or group homes. This protects them from the immediate, current harm, but opens them up to a whole new set of problems.

One thing you might factor into your decision is the county you live in and the number/variety of services available. For many smaller counties in California, there is no local, residential drug treatment. If parents actually commit to treatment -- and lots want to -- they may have to move out of county to do so. There's a whole other slew of problems with underfunded counties and lack of available services.

Before you make your final decision, check around to see of there are ample treatment services in your area. If you live in an urban area, there probably are. If you're in the mountains, there probably aren't. It's something you need to consider.

I'm not saying you shouldn't call if you have solid proof of abuse or neglect. But it sounds like YOU'RE not sure. You asked for how might things play out. These are some of the things that the family will encounter, for better or for worse.

posted by mudpuppie at 7:47 PM on March 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

I used to work as a CPS investigator in Georgia. When you make a report it is either screened out as not meeting the criteria for abuse or neglect or assigned for investigation. This might mean a full fledged investigation with interviews with all of the family members, drug tests for parents and caretakers, inspections of the home and counseling and treatment for parents. Placement with relatives is often tried before putting children into fostercare. It could also mean as little as setting up helpful services for the family. Initial contact with the children will be either immediately, within 24 hours or within 5 days. Your name is never revealed to the family under anything short of a court order. (this has never happened in my experience).
As Mudpuppie said above if the drug abuse and sales do not impact the children then CPS will close the case. If they have food, clothing and shelter and do not see the sale or abuse of drugs then no neglect or abuse is present.
You do not have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt to make a report.
you can email me if you need more.
posted by prjo at 9:55 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I supervise CPS in Oregon. Most of what prjo and mudpuppie said is true in my state, too. Drug use is not, in itself, enough reason for us to assign a worker to investigate. There needs to also be an allegation of child abuse or neglect. So, for instance: mom uses a lot of oxycontin and doesn't get up to supervise her toddlers because she's stoned and passed out. She spends money on drugs and not food and the kids are going to the neighbor's houses looking for food. She's dealing, and the people coming to her house are known to be/believed to be dangerous-carrying loaded weapons, known local predatory sex offender, whatever. She's stoned and lets people she doesn't know watch her kids.

When you say the father of one of the kids has been known to be violent, what do you mean? Does he hit her? Domestic violence with children present is considered child abuse in Oregon, though that is not true in every state.

In most states, child welfare has more than enough work to do and doesn't go around knocking on people's doors if there isn't a real reason to be there. So, I always say, if you're worried, call. It might be nothing, but your call might be the one that sends someone out to help those kids and help that mom get clean. I believe the identities of reporters are kept confidential in every state, but the bottom line is that sometimes families figure it out-we never tell, but sometimes it's obvious. Sometimes families will try and trap the people they suspect of reporting into admitting it-"The CPS worker told me you called, you bitch!". Feel free to lie :).

When you call, have as much concrete info as possible (I think I've mentioned this in previous posts). How do you know she's dealing? What do you see? Has she or the kids told you? Who is hanging out at her house? If you don't know their names, write down a license plate number if you can do it without risking yourself. If you're concerned about the condition of the home, be as specific as possible: "There are piles of animal feces on the floor, the toilet is backed up, and there is a toddler in the home" is much better than "The house is disgusting".

Also, in Oregon every report we get is cross reported immediately to law enforcement. Sometimes, we don't go out but they do, and drug calls are the most common example of that. I don't care if someone has a 12 foot tall pot plant in their house as long as their child is cared for, but law enforcement loooves to go out on drug dealing cases.
posted by purenitrous at 11:05 PM on March 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know the system in your country but I have a point that may be salient.

Just because a parent is dependent upon a narcotic, does not automatically make them a bad parent. And neither does the dealing.

This could be quite a contentious point for many, but while there is strong correlation between drug dependence and poor parenting skills, there is not always causation.

Hopefully the mum in question is managing to do a fair job if you've only just found out and you're quite close to her. Please don't judge her or alienate her from her support network.... of which it seems you are part.

If you feel it is necessary to report, usually it's recommended that you tell the person and do it together. It stops them from being totally disempowered.

Just some thoughts. It's an area I used to work in, in Australia. I'm sorry that everyone is going through this. Best of luck to you all.
posted by taff at 12:47 AM on March 31, 2008

Lots of good information in the posts above. However, I notice no one is addressing what will happen to the kids. So, here goes one example.

If the kids are taken in by CPS, DCFS or whatever your county's department is called, they will try to find a safe place for the kids. In some counties, they may allow a relative to care for the children while the parents sort their problems out. In others, the department will go through their list of trained, licensed foster parents to try to find a home to take all the kids. Unfortunately, they may have to place the children into multiple homes if there is a large sibling group and their foster families don't have enough space available in one location for all. There are usually state guidelines for how many square feet is necessary in the bedroom to house each child. In my state, the first child needs a minimium of 75 sq feet. Each subsequent child to share the room requires a minimum of 50 sq feet. (The room we have available is 120 sq feet, allowing us to only receive one child in placement.)

If the child is placed with a foster family, the department has to have an emergency hearing in court within 72 hours and another within 5 days of the first. The children can be returned to the family at either hearing. If the children are not returned to the family, the family is given a case plan outlining what they have to do to correct the situation and have the children placed back with them. The children stay in foster care until the parents successfully complete the case plan or are placed with relatives. Relatives who step forward will be inspected, trained and licensed just like a foster family. In fact, they will be in classes with families seeking to become foster families.

If no family member is deemed suitable and the parents have their parental rights terminated, the children become legally free for adoption. Ideally, this happens within 15 months of initial placement if, and only if, all other options with the parents and extended family have failed. If the parents are making progress, they can and frequently are given more time to complete their plan. During this time, the case is in court regularly for review and the foster family works to maintain a connection between the kids and the parents. This includes regularly scheduled visits and calls. If the parental rights are terminated (TPR) and the child is freed for adoption, the foster family is frequently asked to be the ones to adopt.

No matter what, this process is emotionally a roller coaster for everyone involved. However, the goal of the foster system and foster families is to make sure the kids are safe and well cared for.

There are lots of variations on this.
posted by onhazier at 6:01 AM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was on the receiving end of a complaint in the GA system prjo mentioned, so I can offer a different perspective. I was dating a woman with a child at the time and she had just turned the father in to child support recovery for not paying appropriately; in retaliation he called CPS and told them that they were living at my house (not true) and we were doing drugs in front of her (also not true; not doing drugs period). The investigator came to my house and looked around and met with both of us individually and asked us to take piss tests. I was unhappy about the situation as you can imagine but after speaking with a lawyer friend I went along with it as the caseworker could have used my refusal as a reason to escalate the process, which could have included such things as getting a restraining order preventing me from being around the child. We both passed our tests and things blew over but I did learn a few things about the process. First, the caseworker was polite and professional throughout and I got the feeling she knew it was a bullshit complaint but she had to check it out. She made it very clear that she could not tell us who made the complaint (although he did eventually admit it). The most intrusive thing that got under our skin was that they took the daughter out of school and asked her a lot of questions about drug use. On the other hand, they never bothered to visit the apartment where the girlfriend and her daughter actually lived, which seemed sort of slack on their part. We talked with a number of people both in and out of CPS about what would happen if one of us came up positive on a drug test (there is about a 2% false positive rate cited in the literature) and it would probably not be a matter of swooping in and grabbing the child so much as setting up a treatment program and a monitoring program to insure there was no ongoing drug use. Although it wasn't a good experience, it was handled well by the agency, for the most part, and it actually made me less reluctant to call if I see a situation. (I work in a children's hospital and we call CPS on a regular basis, so it is not a merely hypothetical issue for me, although if they are involved it is usually long before I see the patient.)
posted by TedW at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2008

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