When Child Protective Services (CPS) gets involved with your family, it’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities. Read this article to learn more about the role of CPS and about the child removal process.
What Is Child Protective Services?
The job of Child Protective Services is to keep kids safe from abuse and neglect. Child abuse is harm or threats of harm to a child’s health or well-being. It is emotional or physical harm that is not accidental. Child neglect means one or both of the following:
- Not providing enough food, clothing, shelter, or medical care for a child in your care
- Placing a child at an unreasonable risk of a harm when you knew or should have known about the risk, could have kept the child from harm, and did not
CPS investigates abuse and neglect by adults who are responsible for the care of children, such as parents or guardians. If the person suspected of abusing a child is not a caregiver but someone like a teacher or religious official, the police will investigate.
CPS will work with families, police, the courts, and other agencies to prevent, identify, and treat child abuse and neglect. CPS must try to keep families together, as long as this is in the child’s best interest.
Who Can Report Child Abuse or Child Neglect?
Anyone, including a child, who reasonably suspects a child is being abused or neglected can report it to CPS or the police. A reasonable suspicion is one that another, neutral person would also have if they had the same experience or heard the same facts.
Some people, because of the jobs they have, must report any reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect. These people are called “mandatory reporters,” and they include teachers, social workers, and doctors. Generally, the name of the person reporting will stay confidential.
After a Report
Within 24 hours after receiving a report of abuse or neglect, CPS must either open an investigation or reject the complaint if they think it’s not reasonable. CPS will refer very serious cases, such as those involving sexual abuse or the death of a child, to the police.
Some of the reasons CPS may reject a complaint as unreasonable include:
- The allegations have already been investigated
- CPS determines the allegations are unfounded after contact with a reliable source with first-hand information
- The allegations were not related to abuse/neglect
- The allegations were vague/insufficient
The purpose of the CPS investigation is to find out if your child was abused or neglected. A CPS investigator will contact the person the report was about and tell them about the complaint. As part of the investigation, the CPS investigator may talk to your child, you and the other parent, and other members of your child’s household. CPS may also talk to anyone else they believe has useful information. A CPS investigation may include visiting your home and reviewing documents like police reports, medical reports, or school reports. CPS must complete the investigation in 30 days.
During an Investigation
In some cases children may be removed from home during an investigation. CPS can only remove children from home if they have permission from a judge. When CPS removes children, it often places them temporarily with the other parent or in foster care. Foster care could be with relatives. The police can remove a child from home without an order from a judge. Hospitals can refuse to let a child go home with their parents if a doctor believes they would be in danger. The hospital does not need a court order to do this, but the power is temporary and short term.
If there is an emergency removal during the investigation, a preliminary hearing must be held within 24 hours. To learn more about what happens at this hearing, read the Preliminary Hearing section below.
Before an abuse and neglect case starts in court, CPS does not have the power to make you follow most of their instructions. However, it’s usually to your advantage to cooperate with CPS. This means answering questions, providing documents, letting CPS inspect your home, and scheduling and attending recommended services. These services may include parenting or household finance classes, substance abuse support groups, and others. CPS can tell you to keep your child away from the person accused of child abuse or neglect. If that person lives with you, CPS doesn’t have the power to make that person move. However, if you don’t follow CPS instructions, you risk being seen as uncooperative.
No matter what CPS asks you to do, any parenting time order you have stays in effect unless a new one is entered. You can ask the court for a new parenting time order that is in line with the CPS recommendation. To learn more about changing parenting time, read the article Changing Parenting Time. You can use the Do-It-Yourself Motion to Change Parenting Time tool if you want to create court forms to ask for a change in your parenting time order.
Categories of Abuse and Neglect
If CPS finds abuse or neglect, it will give the complaint a numbered category I-IV based on seriousness. Categories I and II are the most serious. If a complaint is ranked as Category I or II, the abuser’s name will go on the statewide Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry. It will be removed from the list if the state dismisses its petition, or if the judge or jury finds the claims are untrue. To learn more about this list, read Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry.
In any category CPS might recommend or require services. Services may include the following:
- Classes on parenting skills
- Counseling to help manage anger, stress, or other problems
- Help for developmental delays (Early On program)
- Help for a drug or alcohol problem
- Help for family violence
- Job training and search services
- Help for mental health problems
Category 5 - No services needed
CPS did not find evidence of child abuse or neglect.
Category 4 - Community services recommended
CPS found there is not a preponderance of evidence of child abuse or neglect, but the child is at risk of harm in the future. CPS will ask the family to participate in services to make sure the child stays safe.
Category 3 - Community services needed
CPS found a preponderance of evidence of child abuse or neglect, and a low or moderate risk of future harm to the child. CPS will ask the family to participate in services to make sure the child stays safe. If the family does not cooperate, or cooperates but things do not get better, CPS may change the ranking to Category II.
Category 2 - Child protective services required
CPS found evidence of child abuse or neglect, and the child is at significant risk of harm in the future. CPS will open a protective services case and will provide services to the child and family. The name of the person who committed the child abuse or neglect will be added to the statewide Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry. If the family does not cooperate with services, CPS will change the ranking to Category I.
Category 1 - court petition required
CPS found evidence of child abuse or neglect. CPS has decided that the child is not safe, and/or the abuse was very serious. The name of the person who committed the child abuse or neglect will be added to the statewide Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry. CPS will work with the county prosecutor (an attorney who represents the government in criminal court cases) or attorney general to ask a court to remove the child from their home.
When the Court Gets Involved
If CPS decides the situation requires more serious action to keep your child safe, CPS may file a petition with the court. CPS might work with the county prosecutor or attorney general to do this. CPS must file a petition if it ranks a case Category I.
The petition starts a child protective proceeding in court. A child protective proceeding is not the same as a criminal case. It is a continuous proceeding, which means that if CPS files new petitions they can be added to the same case instead of starting new court cases.
Most petitions are filed by CPS, but anyone who has information about a child who needs the court’s protection can file a petition.
The petition can ask the court to do any of the following:
- Order your family to cooperate with in-home services
- Order the person accused of abuse or neglect to leave the home
- Order the removal of your child from home
- Terminate parental rights if there was very serious abuse. To learn more, see "Termination of Parental Rights" below
Both parents are parties to the case, even if they don’t live together. Both parents have a right to see the CPS reports from the investigation. The parent who was accused of abuse or neglect is called the Respondent. The Respondent has the right to a lawyer during the court process. If the Respondent can’t afford to hire a lawyer, the court will provide one. A parent who has not been named as a Respondent does not have a right to a lawyer.
The Petitioner is the person or agency that files the petition. The Petitioner is usually CPS, a division of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). The Petitioner may also be the county prosecutor acting on behalf of MDHHS, or a private individual.
The child is also a party to the proceeding. The child participates in the case through a lawyer-guardian ad litem (LGAL). The LGAL will represent the child and protect the child's best interests. The child will get an LGAL before the preliminary hearing or preliminary inquiry, whichever happens first.
The judge or referee may hold a preliminary inquiry if the petition does not ask to remove your child from home. A preliminary inquiry is an informal review to decide what action to take on a petition. The judge or referee can dismiss the petition, refer the family to receive services, or authorize the petition. Authorizing the petition means that the case will move forward in the court process. The judge or referee will authorize the petition if there is probable cause that at least one claim of abuse or neglect is true.
If the petition is authorized, you have the right to a trial on the allegations. The trial must be held within six months after the petition was filed.
The judge will hold a preliminary hearing if the petition asks to remove your child from home (or if your child has already been removed). A preliminary hearing is a formal review of the petition. If your child was removed from home on an emergency basis, this hearing must happen within 24 hours. Otherwise, it happens after the Petitioner (usually CPS) submits a petition to the court.
At the preliminary hearing, the judge will decide if there is probable cause that at least one claim of abuse and neglect is true. If not, the judge will dismiss the petition and your child will be returned home (if they were temporarily removed).
If the judge decides there is probable cause that the claims are true, the judge will authorize the petition. If the judge authorizes the petition they will also decide if your child can safely stay at home. If not, the judge can place your child temporarily in another home while the case moves forward. The judge can also order an adult to leave your child’s home.
If the judge decides your child cannot stay at home, the Petitioner will recommend a temporary home for your child. This could be with the other parent, with a relative or in foster care. If you disagree with the proposed placement, you will have a chance to say this in court. Because the goal is to bring your family back together, the Petitioner will also ask the court to order services for your family. This is meant to treat the causes of child abuse and neglect and create a safer environment so that your child can return home.
Going to Trial
If the judge authorizes the petition at the preliminary hearing or inquiry, you can enter a plea or go to trial. Entering a plea usually means admitting wrongdoing. If you enter a plea you will not have a trial and the case will move on to the dispositional hearing.
If your child was left in your care or was placed with the other parent, the trial must happen within six months after the petition was filed. If your child was placed with a nonparent, the trial must happen within 63 days. The trial could be in front of a jury, if you or another party asks for a jury. It can also happen in front of a judge or referee.
The purpose of the trial is to decide if the claims in the petition are true. The judge or jury will use a preponderance of evidence standard. This means that CPS (or whoever filed the petition) must use evidence to show it is more likely than not that your child was abused or neglected.
If the judge or jury decides that there is not enough evidence to show that your child was abused or neglected the judge will dismiss the petition. This means that the case will be finished. If your child was removed from home they will be returned. If the Respondent's name was added to the Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry, it will be removed.
If the judge or jury finds that your child was abused or neglected, the case will move forward to a dispositional hearing.
If the judge or jury decides your child was abused or neglected, the judge will hold a dispositional hearing. The first dispositional hearing could be held right after the trial or plea, or it could be scheduled for a different date. It should take place within 28 days after the trial ends. The purpose of the dispositional hearing is to decide what action to take to protect your child.
The judge could do one or more of the following:
- Dismiss the petition with a warning to the Respondent
- Order your family to cooperate with in-home services
- Order the Respondent to leave the home
- Order the removal of your child from home for placement with a relative or in foster care
- Appoint a guardian for your child
- Order payment of child support
- Terminate parental rights, but only if the petition asked for this
To terminate parental rights, the judge needs to find clear and convincing evidence that the facts in the petition are true.
Even if the judge agrees that your child was abused or neglected, the state must offer a plan of services to try to reunite your family. The parent(s) also have a duty to comply with those services. Reunification services are not required if a Respondent’s parental rights are terminated.
As long as your child is under the jurisdiction of the court (that is, while the case is ongoing), the judge will hold dispositional review hearings. The purpose of these reviews is to see whether your family is benefiting from services and whether supervision or out-of-home placement is still necessary.
What Happens After My Child Is Removed from Home?
Your child can be removed at almost any point in the process. This could happen as early as the initial complaint, if the claims are serious enough. It may also happen after the preliminary hearing or after trial.
The court usually tries to place children with the other parent, if possible. If not, children may be placed with other relatives or in foster care.
When your child is removed, there must be a review hearing within 182 days (six months) of the removal. After that, review hearings should happen every 91 days for the first year. After a child has been removed from home for a year, the hearings will go back to being every 182 days. Hearings will continue until your child is returned home or is permanently placed elsewhere. At these hearings the judge will decide if there are still risks to your child at home, and if it would be safe to return your child home.
A Permanency Planning Hearing must be held within one year of the removal. This is a hearing to determine what progress has been made toward returning your child home, or to show why your child should be permanently placed elsewhere.
There are different rules about visiting your child depending on where you are in the process. Before a dispositional hearing, you are entitled to frequent parenting time with your child. Visits must be allowed unless CPS can show that the visits would harm your child in some way. After the dispositional hearing, a judge will decide the amount and conditions of parenting time based on the child’s best interest. At this point in the process, a judge could deny parenting time even without a showing of harm.
The court may stop visits if a petition has been filed to terminate your parental rights.
Termination of Parental Rights
CPS must take action if you are responsible for certain very serious forms of child abuse or neglect, or failed to protect your child from serious abuse. In those cases, CPS must ask the court to terminate your parental rights.
CPS must also ask the court to terminate parental rights if the CPS investigation found a preponderance of evidence of abuse and neglect in the current case (Category I) AND either of the following is true:
- Your rights to a different child were terminated (in any state) because you abused or neglected that child; or
- You voluntarily gave up your parental rights to another child (in any state), and that child is a temporary ward of the court because of abuse or neglect.
The request to terminate parental rights may be included in the initial petition. Or, if circumstances change, CPS could file an updated petition. For example, if you don’t comply with services or correct a dangerous situation, or if new allegations come to light, CPS can file a new petition in the same case asking the judge to terminate your parental rights.
The judge will decide whether to terminate your parental rights after a hearing. To terminate parental rights, the judge needs to find clear and convincing evidence that the facts in the petition are true. You are entitled to a court-appointed attorney at this stage of the case, as in other stages.
If your parental rights are terminated, you will no longer have custody or control of your child. You will not be entitled to things like parenting time or inheritance. You can give up your rights as a parent or have them terminated by a court. Losing parental rights does not remove the duty to pay child support.
If you give birth in a Michigan hospital after your rights to a different child were terminated, your local MDHHS office will be notified. CPS will investigate whether your newborn child is at risk of harm. CPS will look at the reasons for the earlier termination. If the same problems still exist, CPS can ask a judge to remove the newborn from your care at the hospital.
Access to CPS Records
Both parents have the right to see everything in a CPS file except the name of the person who made the complaint about abuse and neglect.
You must ask for the records in writing at your local MDHHS office. You will need to bring a copy, front and back, of your driver's license or other valid photo ID.