California Law Regarding Child Protective Services (CPS)

In California, CPS represents the foremost state intervention against child neglect and abuse. Here’s what you need to know about Child Protective Services (CPS) laws in California.

The purpose of CPS is to protect children from abuse and neglect, which can or must be reported (depending on if they are a mandated reporter) by people who have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse or neglect is occurring. CPS will attempt to keep the child safe while also keeping the family together, but will remove a child from a home if it is determined that they will not be safe in the home.

Related: What CPS Can and Cannot Do in California

Child Abuse Laws in California

The California Penal Code details what constitutes child abuse and neglect. In general, child abuse occurs if a child is:

  • Intentionally physically injured
  • Willfully subjected to unjustifiable or cruel punishment
  • Sexually exploited or abused
  • Neglected by a guardian, such as by not providing adequate food, shelter, clothing, etc.

Depending on the circumstances, punishments for child abuse in California can extend up to six years in prison and a $6,000 fine.

What are the Child Protective Services?

Child Protective Services (CPS) is a branch of the state social services department that is responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect. When CPS receives a referral regarding suspected child abuse, it is then their responsibility to investigate the referral if they believe, based on the facts provided by the reporter, that the referral warrants a response. CPS will then formally accept the case and intervene if required.

If CPS determines that the child can remain safely in the home, they will provide up to 12 months of services for the child to aid the situation. If they determine that the child cannot remain safely in the home, then they will place the child in a foster home as quickly as possible. CPS will provide up to 18 months of services for a child and their families if the child is removed from the home and they are working towards reunification. If the services do not alleviate the issues, then CPS will provide the child with a more permanent living arrangement. In a worst-case scenario, CPS may terminate one’s parental rights as a last resort.

Related: How to Fight Termination of Parental Rights in California

Laws Regarding Child Protective Services

There are some important laws that any person should know if they have children in their life. First and foremost, it is important to understand what legally constitutes child abuse in California. As previously discussed, child abuse occurs if a child is physically injured on purpose, punished cruelly and willfully, sexually exploited, or neglected by a guardian (such as by failing to provide adequate food).

Other important laws revolve around the reporting of this abuse. California Penal Code Section 11167 ensures that the identity of any person reporting child abuse to an agency shall remain confidential, which further ensures that no person needs to fear retaliation if they report suspected child abuse. However, it is also important to note that community members are not legally required to report suspected child abuse if they are not a mandated reporter. Mandated reporters, however, legally must report suspected or known child abuse to CPS or other agencies or else face criminal charges. The list of positions that confer mandated reporter status is extensive and includes teachers, teaching assistants, coaches, and more. As used in this context, the term “suspected” means that a person must have “reasonable suspicion” that a child is the victim of abuse or neglect, which simply means that a reasonable person would be suspicious of child abuse occurring based on the facts of the situation.

FAQs About Child Protective Services (CPS) Laws in California

I suspect child abuse is occurring, but I don’t want to break up the family by reporting them to CPS. What should I do?

CPS will only remove a child from a home in extreme circumstances. They will try their best to alleviate the situation while keeping the family together. Regardless, you should definitely report all cases of suspected child abuse in order to protect the child.

Am I required to report suspected child abuse?

Only mandated reporters are legally required to report suspected or known child abuse. California law lists mandated reporter positions.

I want to report child abuse but I’m fearful of retaliation by the family. Should I still report?

Yes. California law ensures the confidentiality of reporters of child abuse.

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If you or a loved one is seeking more information on Child Protective Services (CPS) Laws in California, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the most qualified attorney for your unique legal matter. Get connected to an attorney with one of our California Family Law Attorneys today!