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CPS and Your Family

Contents

    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 of children by the adults responsible for their care, such as parents or guardians. If the person suspected of abusing a child is not the 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. Wherever possible, 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.

    The purpose of the CPS investigation is to find out whether 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 its investigation in 30 days.

    During an Investigation

    During an investigation, CPS can remove your child from home if he or she is in immediate danger. When CPS removes children, it often places them temporarily with the other parent or in foster care. Foster care could be with relatives.

    CPS does not have any power to remove your child from home without a court order. Only the police can remove a child without an order. If there is an emergency removal during the investigation, a preliminary court hearing must be held within 24 hours.

    Until there is a court order, CPS does not have any power to rearrange your family. CPS can instruct you to keep your child away from the person accused of child abuse or neglect. If that person lives in your household, 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.

    Sometimes cooperating with CPS can leave you in a difficult position of choosing between violating a court order for parenting time or going against a CPS recommendation. No matter what CPS asks you to do, your parenting time order is in effect unless a new one is entered. If necessary, you can ask the court for a new parenting time order consistent with the CPS recommendation. If a new court order addressing parenting time or contact is issued in the CPS case, this will trump an older parenting time order.

    Before an abuse and neglect case starts in court, you can choose whether or not to follow most CPS directives. However, it’s usually to your advantage to cooperate with CPS. This means answering questions, providing any documents they ask for, allowing them to inspect your home, and scheduling and attending the recommended services. These services may include parenting or household finance classes, substance abuse support groups, and others.

    Categories of Abuse and Neglect

    When the investigation is complete, if CPS finds abuse or neglect, it will assign a ranking to the complaint based on seriousness:

    • Category IV - community services recommended

      • This means CPS found some evidence there may have been abuse or neglect, and the child may be at risk of harm in the future. The family will be asked to cooperate with community services to make sure the child stays safe.

    • Category III - community services needed

      • This means CPS found significant evidence of child abuse or neglect, and the child may be at risk of harm in the future. The family will be asked to cooperate with community services to make sure the child stays safe. If the family refuses to cooperate or cooperates without improving the situation, CPS may change the ranking to Category II.

    • Category II - child protective services required

      • This means 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 refuses to cooperate with services, CPS will change the ranking to Category I.

    • Category I - court petition required

      • This means 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 or attorney general to petition a court to remove the child from his or her home.

    When CPS services are recommended or required, these 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

    If a complaint is ranked as Category I or II, the Respondent’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.

    When the Court Gets Involved

    If CPS decides the situation requires more serious action to make sure your child is safe, CPS may work with the county prosecutor or attorney general to file a petition with the court. CPS must file a petition if it ranks a case Category I.

    A petition is a request for court action to protect a child. The petition starts a child protective proceeding, which is not the same as a criminal case. It is a continuous proceeding, which means that new or supplemental petitions can be added to the same case in the future.

    Although most petitions are filed by CPS, anyone who has information about a child who needs the court’s protection may 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

    In cases of very serious abuse, the petition may also include a request to terminate parental rights. To learn more, see Termination of Parental Rights, below.

    Both parents are considered 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. Only the Respondent has a right to a court-appointed attorney. The Respondent will have to show that he or she can’t afford to hire an attorney.

    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 takes part in the case through a lawyer-guardian ad litem. This person is appointed before the first hearing or inquiry to represent and protect the child’s interests.

    Preliminary Inquiry

    If the petition does not include a request to remove your child from home, the judge or referee may decide to hold a “preliminary inquiry.” This is an informal review to decide what action to take on the petition. The judge or referee can dismiss the petition, refer the family to receive services, or authorize CPS to file the petition. The judge or referee will authorize the petition if they find there is probable cause that one or more of its claims of abuse or neglect are 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.

    Preliminary Hearing

    If the petition includes a request to remove your child from home (or if your child has already been removed), the next step is a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a formal review of the petition. If your child was removed from home on an emergency basis, the 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 must decide whether there is probable cause that one or more claims of abuse and neglect are true. If not, the judge will dismiss the petition, and your child will be returned home (if he or she was temporarily removed).

    If the judge decides there is probable cause that the claims are true, the judge will authorize CPS to file the petition, and there will be a trial unless you enter a plea (usually, admit wrongdoing). If the judge authorizes the petition, he or she must also decide whether your child can safely stay at home or whether your child should be placed temporarily in another home. The judge can also order an adult to leave your child’s home.

    If the judge decides your child cannot safely stay at home, the Petitioner will recommend a temporary home for your child, such as with the other parent 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 ultimately 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 your child could later be returned to.

    Going to Trial

    If the judge authorizes the petition at the preliminary hearing or inquiry, and you do not enter a plea, the next step is a trial. 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 makes that request. It can also happen in front of a judge or referee.

    The purpose of the trial is to decide whether the claims in the petition are true and whether the court will take custody over your child. The standard of proof the judge must use is a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, the state must use evidence to show it is more likely than not that your child was abused or neglected.

    Dispositional Hearing

    If the judge decides your child was abused or neglected, a dispositional hearing (or series of hearings) will be held. The purpose of the dispositional hearing is to decide what action to take to protect your child. This hearing should take place within 28 days after the trial ends.

    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 this was requested in a petition)

    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 court must conduct periodic reviews. The purpose of these reviews is to see whether your family is benefiting from services and/or 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 upon 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, where 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. Review hearings should then happen every 91 days until your child is returned home or is permanently placed elsewhere. At these hearings, the judge will decide whether the risk of harm to your child has been removed and whether it would be safe to return your child to the 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 removed child. Parenting visits must be allowed unless CPS can prove 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 suspend 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 that 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

    • 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 later file a supplemental 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 following a hearing. 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 such things as parenting time or statutory inheritance. You can give up your rights as a parent or have them terminated by a court. Losing parental rights does not remove the parental duty of paying 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 may petition a court to remove the newborn from your care at the hospital.

    Access to CPS Records

    Both parents have the right to access everything in a CPS file except the name of the person who made the complaint about abuse and neglect.

    You must request 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.