CPS stands for Child Protective Services, which is the entity in Washington State that investigates allegations of child abuse or neglect. Generally speaking, two groups of adults are subject to CPS involvement: parents and caregivers.
For parents, CPS can receive a report of abuse from any number of sources: teachers, caregivers, other relatives, medical professionals, etc. Once CPS receives a report, it investigates the allegation to determine whether there is any basis for concern regarding the health or safety of a child. Every report alleges some form of abuse or neglect. It could be something as simple as a dirty home or as extreme as sexual abuse. There may be concerns about the ability of the parents to adequately care for their children due to mental health issues, drug involvement, or unavailability due to incarceration. If CPS investigates and determines that the allegations have merit, it will either try to work with the parents informally out of court to address the concerns or file a formal dependency petition to start a court case regarding the parents’ ability to safely care for their children. The judge will address such things as where the children will live while the court is involved, how often parents will visit if the children are placed out of the home, impacts on the children’s education, and any services that should be provided to the parents and children while the case is active. Ideally, the children are returned home and the case is closed when the judge is satisfied that the issues requiring court involvement have been remedied. If that doesn’t happen, eventually a new case could be filed in which the state attempts to terminate the parental rights to the children and find adoptive homes for them.
Beyond parents, the other group of people who are most often involved in legal action due to a CPS investigation is caregivers. For example, if there is an allegation that a child is injured while in daycare, CPS will investigate. If CPS determines that the child likely was injured at daycare and that the providers were at fault, it may issue a finding of abuse or neglect, which could result in the caregivers losing their license and the business being shut down. The caregiver can challenge this finding in an administrative hearing. If the allegation is concerning enough for the Department, it may request a summary suspension, which would mean that the license is suspended immediately, pending final resolution at a full hearing. The summary suspension can also be challenged administratively on an accelerated schedule, however, it can be difficult for the caregiver to prevail given the way the law is written and reluctance by an administrative judge to overrule the Department and potentially expose children to harm despite a known risk.
In some instances, the alleged abuse also constitutes criminal conduct and law enforcement can be involved.
Whether the stakes are loss of your children, loss of your business, or loss of your liberty, you should contact an attorney immediately for legal advice.