A Child Protective Services investigator shows up at your door and wants to talk. They’re just there to investigate a complaint, they tell you, and of course they are expecting you to let them in, because you’ve got nothing to hide, right? Here’s why letting them get past your front door is not a good idea.
(1) CPS investigators lack training.
I’m not here to knock on individual CPS workers. As a whole, they are generally well-intentioned people who want to save the world from child abuse. The problem is really that they have a huge deficit in their training, which can often result in their good intentions turning into the destruction of a good family.
When you look at the training that CPS workers are receiving, the problems become apparent. The training focuses on WHAT they should do – which services to provide, when to remove a child from a home, how to conduct their investigation – but it doesn’t deal at all with WHY they are doing what they do. Most of the workers never get in depth training that allows them to look at the individual cases that they are dealing with, and assess the real risk. They assess risk to a child by plugging numbers into a computer program. Real life just doesn’t work that way. In order to provide families with real help, workers would have to stop treating their cases like there is a cookie cutter solution. Often, the “help” that CPS provides actually causes more harm than good.
It’s easy to understand why our child protection system has such poor training. CPS investigators are severely underpaid, have high case loads, and deal with difficult situations. There is incredibly high turnover in their jobs. It is not unusual for a family in the system to have several workers come and go in their case during the course of months. The government isn’t likely to invest the several thousands of dollars needed in training for each worker, when the workers are likely to leave their jobs within just a couple of years.
The bottom line is that even if the CPS worker is well-intentioned, their lack of training can quickly lead you in the wrong direction.
(2) Talking to CPS is just like talking to the police.
Child protective services workers are paid by the same government that pays the police. The constitution applies to them the same way that it applies to the police. The information that CPS seeks to gather from you when they show up on your doorstep can and will be used against you, either in a child protective proceeding or a criminal proceeding.
Do not speak to a CPS worker without an attorney present. The things that you say will be taken out of context, twisted, and lied about. It will always be more harmful to you and your family if you choose to speak with a CPS worker.
The biggest issue that we run into with this situation is that CPS workers (again due to a lack of training) don’t understand or appreciate that people don’t have an obligation to speak with them. They will threaten to remove your children from your home if you refuse to speak with them. This may be true – they may remove your children if you don’t talk with them. However, if they are making that threat, the reality is that they were probably going to remove your children anyway. Speaking with them is only going to give them more ammunition that they need to get the judge to sign an order to remove your kids. The best thing you can do to protect your family is to keep your mouth shut.
(3) Confirmation bias is a huge problem.
A CPS worker has shown up at your door because they believe that you have abused your child. They are there to gather evidence of that abuse. They are not there to disprove the allegation.
When an investigator comes in with this mindset, it can be really dangerous. I recently had a CPS worker testify at a hearing that when they learn a piece of information from a child or parent that potentially has both an innocent purpose or an evil purpose, the worker will always assume that the thing is being done for the bad purpose, in order to err on the side of caution in protecting the child.
Looking at the world that way will certainly create a big problem for families. There are plenty of innocent things that we do every day that when looked at from that perspective can raise suspicion or be twisted to sound terrible. For example, you can turn assisting your toddler with their bath into wanting to look at naked little kids. Not true, but wait until you see the CPS worker write it in their report.
(4) They lack real world experience.
I recognize that I am generalizing here, but a lot of the CPS workers that I run into are young, fresh out of college, and don’t have children. They’ve just finished obtaining their bachelor’s degree in social work, and they are on the hunt for child abuse. But they don’t really have any understanding of what it is like to be a parent, or that many people’s experiences in growing up in a family are different than their own.
Sometimes, being able to understand families and empathize with what is happening in a particular family only comes with having some life experience that permits you to see the world with a more open mind. It’s not the fault of the worker, but rather the fault of our system. Very few people, other than recent college grads, want to take on the low pay, high stress job of a CPS investigator. And those who do usually move on to better paying jobs relatively quickly.
(5) Kids say the darndest things (and the CPS worker won’t record it.)
Allowing a CPS worker to interview your child can also be dangerous. Kids say some things that are off the wall. And kids don’t understand putting things in context. Your child may say something to a CPS worker that makes perfect sense to them and to you, but taken out of context sounds terrible.
When I was a kid, my mom would go out to dinner with her friends at a bar after her women’s golf league. As long as I have been alive, I have never known my mother to take a single sip of alcohol. But when people would call on the nights she was out having dinner, I would say, “No, she’s not here. She’s out at the bar, AGAIN.”
Sure, for my parents it was a hoot that I would tell people this, because for the most part they were friends and family who knew my mom didn’t drink. But can you imagine if I had told that to a CPS worker? She might have been turned in for neglecting her child!
A bigger issue with CPS interviewing your children, is that many refuse to record the interviews. So, when you get a CPS worker saying that your child said something that is blatantly untrue and that perhaps the child didn’t even actually say, you have no way to prove it.
We recently had a case with CPS where they refused to record a forensic interview with a child. There were three people who viewed the interview, took notes, and drafted a report about what the child said. On several critical issues in the interview, all three reports described the child saying three very different things. We will never know what the child actually said because there is no recording. If the child hadn’t been interviewed, or the interview had been recorded, the children in that case likely would never have been removed from their parents.
Hopefully, there may be change coming in that area. There has been legislation proposed to require CPS and law enforcement to record forensic interviews of children in Michigan.
Overall, dealing with Child Protective Services can become a nightmare for families. The best way you can protect yourself is not to engage with the investigator. Tell them from the beginning that you will not speak to them without an attorney present.
If you need a Grand Rapids child abuse attorney, contact the attorneys at Miel & Carr, PLC at 616-773-2945.