Unfairly Accused of Child Abuse: Understanding the ACS and CPS Investigation
Getting a phone call from an agent of Child Protective Services (CPS) or Administration for Children’s Services is frightening. An indictment can result in the loss of your child or the implementation of a service plan that interferes with your relationship. Even unfounded cases can have traumatic effects on your record and your closeness with your family.
The child abuse investigation process
Anybody can report suspicions of child abuse. Some medical professionals, educational staff, caretakers and social service providers are required to file a report. ACS or CPS has 24 hours to begin an investigation of child abuse or neglect allegations after receiving the initial report. The agent must reach a finding of indicted or unfounded within 60 days. During the investigation, the agent may:
- Review family history that exists with the ACS or CPS
- Conduct home visits
- Contact the person who reported the abuse
- Interview you and other caretakers
- Question people who may have relevant information — such as teachers, medical professionals and neighbors
The child is removed from the home only if the ACS or CPS agent finds a threat of immediate or serious danger.
What you should do if contacted by ACS or CPS
You may know which event triggered the investigation — possibly an injurious fall at your home or a parenting style that is inconsistent with your neighborhood or school culture. On the other hand, you may have no idea what started the process. Regardless, the first contact made by a New York child protective agent is likely to come as a shock. Remain composed and calm whenever you speak to the judge, agent, social workers and other professionals involved in the investigation and adjudication process. Even if your reaction is justified, your angry response can backfire.
Consider retaining a family law attorney who understands the process. A lawyer can help strike the delicate balance between cooperating with the agencies and courts while aggressively protecting your parental rights and your relationship with your child.