In all your dealings with CPS, even if your worker seems friendly and helpful, always keep in mind that the CPS system is NOT your friend, NOT your counselor, and NOT your advocate. Understand that you are in an adversarial (oppositional) relationship with CPS, that you are being evaluated and investigated by CPS, that CPS can take your child, and that every thing you say can and often will be used against you.
The very words ‘child protective services’ sound so humanitarian, and so in tune with what mothers want, especially those mothers who are dealing with a violent partner, that women frequently make the serious mistake of thinking that CPS is their friend. Or they think that CPS will at least by on the same side with them, or that CPS will naturally work to support their needs and interests. This mistaken belief is even easier to fall into when the CPS worker is friendly or tells you directly that she or he wants to help you. In fact, your worker may truly believe that he or she is there to help you. CPS workers themselves are often blind to the underlying dynamics of the system they work for.
The reality is that CPS system is a government agency armed with the enormous power to take your child, and to do so on only the most minimal pretext, with only the smallest sliver of evidence, and minimal due process rights for you. The CPS system is set up to investigate and judge whether or not you are a fit parent, even when everyone knows you are not the one who abused your child.
So, if you are a non-offending parent, in all your dealings with CPS, remember, CPS is not your friend! CPS is not your counselor! CPS is not your advocate! If you always keep this in mind, it will help you avoid some common and tragic mistakes. It will also help you to take basic, but critical steps to protect yourself from CPS abuses of power along the way.
Here are the kinds of mistakes so many women fall into when they believe that CPS is on their side. Women often pour their hearts out to CPS. They open their homes and family life to CPS, and give CPS all kinds of intimate information that CPS then can, and often will, use against you. Another big mistake women make when they think CPS is on their side, is that they trust that CPS is looking after their interests. They let their guard down. They don’t pay attention to what’s going on. They don’t prepare and protect themselves. And, all too often, they don’t wake up until it’s too late.
Example: Here’s just one example of the kind of tragedy that occurs over and over again when women think CPS is on their side. An exhausted mother has been coping with an abusive husband for years. One day her 10-year-old daughter tells a teacher that the reason she’s late to school is because her father got in a fight with her mother after breakfast and he started beating her mother. The teacher reports this to CPS. The CPS worker tells the mother she wants to help the family. The mother bares her heart to the worker. The mother tells the CPS worker how stressed she has been. How much trouble she has sleeping. How fearful she is in the home. She tells CPS that a year ago she went to a shelter, but soon returned to the abusive husband because she didn’t think she could make enough money to feed the children. She says she tries to warn the children against being around the father when he gets in that mood. She says she doesn’t know what to do.
Then one day the mother gets a copy of the written CPS report. She is stunned to read that the worker has written that ‘this mother is out of control, can’t cope, is mentally unstable and unable to protect the child’, and that, furthermore, the mother is ‘alienating the children from the father’. And that based on this, CPS is petitioning the court to remove the child from the mother.
It happens like this over and over again. So right from the beginning, understand that CPS is geared up and empowered to protect children against parents. CPS is not working on your behalf. Even if CPS lines up a whole set of programs for you to attend to help you keep your child, you need to realize that if you don’t comply with these programs to CPS satisfaction, CPS holds the threat of taking your child. This does not constitute a friendly relationship. Even though every one agrees that you did not abuse the child, you are in an adversarial (oppositional) relationship with CPS, and a particularly precarious adversarial relationship at that.
The proof that you are in an adversarial (oppositional) relationship with CPS is that (in most states) the juvenile court must assign you an attorney to represent your interests and protect you from CPS powers when you’re in court with CPS. This is a huge clue that even the courts recognize that you, the non-offending parent, are in an adversarial relationship with CPS and that you need legal protection from CPS powers.
Another way to look at this is to understand that the only special power authorized to the CPS/juvenile court system is a power that can hurt you badly, i.e., the power to take your child. CPS is not empowered in any special way to help you. It’s true that CPS can give you referrals to various social and psychological services, but those are all things that you can do for yourself. Worse yet, when CPS gives you these referrals, they are usually mandated referrals given under threat of losing your child if you don’t comply. But in terms of any unique governmental power designed to help you, the non-offending parent, CPS has nothing. CPS is not empowered to hold the perpetrator accountable, is not empowered to obtain justice for either you or your child, and is not empowered to protect you.
It’s critical that you understand that once CPS opens a case on your child, even though everyone knows you are not the abuser, you are being investigated and judged by the CPS system. And a determination is being made as to whether or not to take your child. This is not a friendly relationship. You are in an adversarial (oppositional) relationship with CPS.
It’s worth repeating. It does not matter how helpful, encouraging, or humanitarian your individual CPS worker might be, the CPS system is NOT your friend. They are investigating you. You are under threat of losing your child.
NOTE: The CPS system was established in the middle of last century at a time when women’s and children’s rights within the family were not well established. Family violence was not viewed as a crime, i.e. was not viewed as a serious offense against society. A man’s home was his castle, and women and children were his legal inferiors. CPS was structured in a way to conform to these very patriarchal views, and, for the most part, CPS structure and operation remains legally locked into those outdated and oppressive modes today.