Note: If you need to report child abuse, you should contact CPS immediately. You can reach the Texas Abuse Hotline by calling 1-800-252-5400 or filling out a contact form on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) website. CPS cannot investigate complaints made via email. Calling the hotline is recommended in urgent cases, as processing online contact forms can take up to 48 hours. When you call have as much information about the child, their alleged abuser, and their current location as you can. The identity of a reporter of child abuse or neglect is confidential to the abuser but will be in the file and provided to the investigator so they can contact the reporter for additional information.
If you are a witness to child abuse or neglect, or a parent whose own child is suffering at the hands of an ex, Child Protective Services (CPS) can play a vital role in protecting that child.
Knowing how to report child abuse or neglect and understanding how CPS operates can help you protect a child.
Understanding the Role of the Texas DFPS and CPS
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has a specific division called Child Protective Services (CPS) which is tasked with investigating and handling child abuse and neglect cases.
Every year, CPS investigates tens of thousands of reports of child abuse or neglect. In 2014, Texas CPS confirmed 66,398 cases of child abuse or neglect.
Under Texas law, anyone who has reason to believe a child, adult with disabilities, or person aged 65 or older is being abused or neglected must report the alleged abuse to the DFPS. To report urgent cases, citizens should use the DFPS Abuse Hotline: 1-800-252-5400. Processing online reports can take up to 48 hours, so only report abuse through the DFPS website if the case is not urgent. If you believe a child may be in life-threatening danger, you should call 911 and obtain assistance from law enforcement authorities before calling DFPS.
When DFPS receives a report for alleged child abuse, the Child Protective Investigations (CPI) department takes over to investigate. The assigned investigator will take steps like contacting the reporter, interviewing family members and alleged victims to determine whether evidence supports allegations of child abuse. They may or may not discuss the allegations with the alleged abuser. In certain circumstances they may use additional professionals to assist in the investigation such as forensic interviewers and medical professionals. If the investigator determines that the report is valid and the alleged victims may be suffering from abuse, they then have to determine the next steps of intervention which can include removing the alleged victim from their home and or providing services to the family.
CPS investigations are complex and rarely identical. However, the general CPS investigation process can be broken down into five stages:
- Initial abuse allegation/investigation stage. At this stage, CPS investigators take steps to determine what level of response is needed and rank the case from P1-P3 or assign it to their alternate response unit (less urgent). A P1 investigation requires immediate contact with the alleged victim. They may conduct a home, daycare or school visit and interview the child, their parents, and get additional information from the person who filed the report or other collateral witnesses. CPS does not need your permission to talk to your child at school or daycare and you do not have a right to be notified before they speak to your child. You can deny CPS access to your child, home etc. In that circumstance, they may seek an additional court order which may order additional investigation measures to be done including transporting your child for drug testing, medical examination or a forensic interview. For the majority of the reports, law enforcement is also notified of the original report and may work their investigation alongside CPS or provide additional safety for the investigator.
- In-depth investigation stage. Once an investigator has been assigned to the case, the investigation begins in earnest. CPS officials may interview caregivers adjacent to the child, such as teachers, and run criminal and CPS background checks on individuals involved in the case or provided as possible placement for the child. If the investigator determines that the child will continue to be in danger, they may ask the parent to agree to voluntarily placing the child with a relative or close family friend in a Parent Child Safety Placement (PCSP) until the case can be further investigated. The top priority of investigators during this stage is maintaining the safety of the child.
- Family-based safety services stage. Once the investigation is concluded CPS will make a finding of abuse or neglect and a determination of what needs to happen to ensure the safety of the child. If removal from the home is not necessary and the parent(s) are cooperating, they will assign the case to the FBSS (Family Based Safety Services) Unit to continue to provide services to the family while the child remains either at home or with a relative through a PCSP. A special FBSS caseworker is then assigned to the family and they will provide the family with resources, such as counseling, and parenting training. They also make regular home visits for face-to-face contact with the family and child. This stage can last for up to and beyond six months as the family is working services.
- Removal stage. If the CPS investigator finds that there is an immediate danger to the physical health or safety of a child, or the child has been a victim of neglect or sexual abuse and that leaving the child in the home would be contrary to the child’s welfare and reasonable efforts to prevent the removal were made, they may remove the child from the home immediately and seek a court order the next day. The child will then be placed with an approved relative or family friend (called fictive kin) or in foster care if there is no suitable relative placement available at that time. CPS officials then seek a court order and set the case for an adversary hearing where the Judge will decide whether the child will stay in care while the parent works services and what actions the alleged abuser needs to take (attending parenting classes, court, etc.) to work towards family reunification. CPS can also go to the Judge for a court order authorizing the removal before removing the child, or file a petition requesting the removal of the child and set that for a hearing after notice to any parent of the child. CPS is ordered to serve all parents with notice of the proceedings. You can expect that any person with legal rights to the child will be notified of these proceedings whether they are actively involved in the child’s life or not.
- Family reunification stage. CPS is tasked with working to reunify the child with the family. The alleged abuser will need to take specific steps to prove their progress as a parent before they can potentially reunite with their child. However, reunification isn't always possible. In situations where the parents are divorced, the child's other parent (the non-offending parent) may gain sole custody due to this process. Alternatively, parental rights may be terminated and the child may get placed permanently in the state's foster care system. There are specific deadlines for the parent to show their progress and typically the case and the child’s placement will be determined within a year. The Court is to look at the best interest of the child, not the best interest of the parent throughout the process.
If you believe a child (or your child) is suffering from abuse, you should report the abuse immediately. If the alleged abuser is your co-parent, you may be able to file for an emergency custody order to gain custody of your child while CPS works to investigate the issue.
Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect
If a child has been abused (physically or sexually) or neglected, they might display some of the following signs:
- Injuries that seem to appear without explanation (bruises, cuts, etc.);
- Frequent complaints of pain;
- Lack of a reaction to pain;
- Abnormal behavior, such as aggression or emotional withdrawal;
- Fear of a parent;
- Lack of personal hygiene;
- Frequent absences from school;
- Difficulty standing or walking;
- Fear of a certain gender;
- Sexual comments, behaviors or play beyond their age;
- Low self-esteem;
- Severe anxiety or depression;
- Difficulty getting along with other children;
- Stalled or regressed emotional and physical development (stopping talking, walking, etc.).
Dealing with a case of child abuse or neglect is never easy. If you believe a co-parent is abusing or neglecting your child, our lawyers can work with you to pursue an emergency custody order.
To learn more or arrange a consultation with our office, contact us online or via phone at (940) 293-2313.