Everyone experiences bureaucratic messes, but when the negligence or improper behavior of a state official involves the investigation of a child abuse complaint, it’s particularly frustrating. Every state has an office that investigates reports of child abuse, neglect or endangerment. Most are titled with some variation of “Child Protective Services” (CPS) and, upon receiving a complaint, the department sends investigators. If you feel that a child protection investigator did not do the job properly, you can file a complaint with the CPS. Exact procedures vary among states.
Duties of the CPS in Your State
Each state sets its own laws as to how the CPS is to operate, its focus and its procedures. Your first step when you feel that a CPS investigator did not do a good job is to find out the correct duties and procedures for your jurisdiction.
For example, in Maryland, the law provides for two types of responses to child maltreatment reports: the investigative response and the alternative response. The CPS must use the investigative response when the reports describe high or moderate risk to a child’s safety. If the risk is low, the CPS applies an alternative response. Both approaches require that the CPS employees work closely with the family to find solutions to improve the child’s safety. In the investigative approach, the CPS makes findings of fact and a formal report at the end of the investigation. The alternative response is more flexible, taking the family’s circumstances and needs into account.
In Michigan, on the other hand, once child abuse or neglect is reported, the CPS must investigate the situation within 24 hours and finish the investigation within 30 days. The CPS goes to court if it determines that the risk of child abuse is high or intensive. The court determines if there are grounds for termination of parental rights or the placement of criminal charges.
Obviously, these approaches are different, although both are structured so as to supply assistance for the child. But what might be considered improper behavior by the CPS in one state may be standard procedure in another.
CPS Complaint Procedures
Just as the CPS’s responsibilities and procedures vary among jurisdictions, the complaint procedures differ from state to state. You will need to learn the rules that apply in your area. Find this information from the local CPS office or on its website. Any behavior that you find unprofessional can be the subject of a complaint.
In general, you first need to discuss any issues with the CPS investigator or caseworker who investigated the case to ensure you understand what was done and why. If that fails, your next step is to talk with that person’s supervisor. After that, some states, such as Michigan, allow you to petition for a new person to handle the matter. Put your request in writing and direct it to the county director or the district office manager. Specify in the request the circumstances and all the steps you have already tried to solve the problem.
If your problem is with the disposition, rather than any particular action on the part of the caseworker or investigator, a better option is to file an appeal of the decision. Again, the procedures vary, so be sure to follow the guidelines for your jurisdiction. In many states, the notice of disposition itself sets out the steps you need to do to appeal.
- Department of Human Services: Frequently Asked Questions: Complaints
- Frederick County Department of Social Services: Child Protective Services
- Michigan: Children's Protective Services Investigation Process
- Maryland: Child Protective Services
- Michigan: Is It Possible to Request a Different Caseworker?
- Maryland: Appealing Child Protective Services Findings
- CPS is a state-run organization, and each state may have different departments to contact for the appeal process.