Coping with Child Services (ACS/CPS/OCFS)
- by Danielle Montalto-Bly
Where an incident occurs that triggers police, fire or ambulatory assistance for a parent and/or child, it is not uncommon that the Administration of Child Services (or Child Protective Services (depending upon where you live) will launch an investigation to make sure there are no signs of abuse or neglect.
Child Services may also be triggered by things your child says or does in school, to a teacher or guidance counselor, or to a school nurse. For example, if a child is consistently late, unkempt, hungry or bruised; If they tell their teachers that there is violence or drugs in the home; all of these things can trigger a “report.”
Last, family members, friends, neighbors and even enemies may contact child services directly to report alleged incidents that are not in a child’s best interest that may prompt an investigation.
As previously mentioned, some people take it upon themselves to report an incident, but some members of the community are considered “mandatory reporters.” Some licensed professionals, such as those working in healthcare, mental health or education that have a “duty” to report when they see signs of abuse or neglect. They must contact child services and have a case worker investigate the circumstances, no matter how serious or minor you may believe them to be.
Child Services calls. Now what?
A case worker may show up to the hospital or your home unannounced. They may also contact you and ask that you voluntarily speak with a caseworker. Generally, it’s best to cooperate with Child Services. However, It’s also highly recommended that you speak with an attorney before doing so, as information you provide may not only lead to filings against you in family court, but could also trigger criminal charges.
What happens after an interview?
After an interview, Child Services may take one or more of these four steps:
Write a report that the claims were “unfounded” and that the case should be closed without incident.
Write a report that indicates you for abuse and neglect, potentially requesting that you participate in certain classes or therapy. This means the incident may appear in background checks for many years if no action is taken.
Bring an Article 10 Abuse and/or Neglect Proceeding against you that would cause the Court to intervene in the potential removal of your child.
Report a crime to police department for finding enough evidence that abuse or neglect occurred.
Unless you are lucky enough to slip by with the first scenario, you must take immediate action. In the instance of an “indication” (option 2), there is an appeal process that should be taken immediately after you receive the notice. The Office of Child and Family Services affords you a “fair hearing” to either rebut the claims and get them dismissed, or show that it is not reasonably related to your employment and seek to have it sealed. These hearings are technical and should be handled with the aid of a skilled attorney.
Remember, Child Services, is an administrative body, whose actions can trigger legal proceedings against you. Maneuvering between these different governing bodies is complicated and should not be handled lightly. In the event that options 2 or 3 occur, please run (don’t walk) to a licensed and skilled attorney to help you navigate the legal system.