When your child suffers an injury that appears to be non-accidental or as a result of neglect, medical personnel have a duty to report it to your local Department of Social Services / Child Protective Services. This could trigger a CPS investigation and in severe cases, a criminal investigation. The fear and uncertainty the results from receiving that first call from DSS or law enforcement can be staggering as you ask yourself “do they really think that I am capable of doing this to my child?”
Clients frequently ask “do I have to talk to police or the social worker with regards to what happened to my child?”
If you are the non-offending parent, (the parent that has not been identified to have neglected or abused the minor child) you should cooperate with DSS and law enforcement. Failing to do so may result in DSS taking action to remove custody of the child from you if they perceive your lack of cooperation as harmful to their investigation or if DSS believes that you are protecting the alleged perpetrator.
You may be asked to consent to the child’s participation in forensic medical or psychological evaluations. DSS may also ask that you sign waivers for the child’s mental health or medical records. While you may have a right to object to these requests, objections can be interpreted as a “lack of cooperation” by CPS, which could lead to further legal action.
If you are the alleged perpetrator of neglect or abuse it is very important that you seek legal counsel prior to making any statements to DSS and/or law enforcement. By statute, law enforcement and DSS are mandated to cooperate with one another during CPS investigations that may have criminal implications. For instance, if a parent has been accused of sexually abusing his child, DSS and law enforcement typically work closely together. There is no privilege between you and DSS; if you make incriminating statements they will be forwarded to the police.
Much of the evidence gathered in the CPS investigation, especially Child Medical Evaluations (CME) or Child Family Evaluations (CFE), are used as an investigative tool for law enforcement. The agencies cooperate with one another to obtain information for their respective investigations. They often combine their efforts so that a child does not have to submit to numerous interviews from various professionals during the process. If the alleged perpetrator makes statements to DSS or a forensic evaluator, law enforcement can obtain those interviews and use it for purposes of a criminal investigation.
If you are accused of abuse or neglect, you can request that any interviews be conducted in the presence of counsel. Not participating in an investigation can be damaging. However, participating without the advice of counsel can be devastating to your future parental rights and liberty interests.
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