Most parents do not know the boundaries and rules that Child Protective Services (CPS) must follow. Here is everything you need to know about what Child Protective Services (CPS) can and cannot do in California.

Child Protective Services has quite a few rules of what they are allowed to do, like investigate every claim and talk to a child without their parents’ permission. However, all parents have rights when dealing with CPS, and those should be known as well. If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected by a parent or caretaker, file a report with the appropriate emergency hotline. 

CPS Violations in California

Child Protective Services (CPS) has very strict rules that they need to abide by. However, parents still have rights that can protect them.

What CPS is allowed to do

CPS must investigate every claim made, even if it is false

This is often frustrating for a lot of parents, as many things are falsified or taken out of context. However, it is the responsibility of CPS to investigate every single claim filed against them, and every claim is taken with the utmost seriousness. However, parents have the right to know every claim that is made in the investigation.

Related: Can You Sue for False Accusations of Child Neglect?

CPS can talk to your child without your permission

Many parents are often shocked when they find this out, but CPS is allowed to talk to a child without the permission of their parents. If the allegations are serious enough, CPS might attempt to talk to a child before speaking with their parent. This rule prevents children from being forced into saying false claims to protect their abusers and prevents children from not being allowed to talk to CPS at all.

CPS can show up to your home without notice

Unannounced visits are very common in cases of alleged abuse or violent behavior. This is to prevent the parents from being on their best behavior, and from getting rid of any incriminating evidence. If a parent is not at home when a CPS worker arrives, they will usually leave a note with contact information to schedule a future visit.

CPS can ask invasive and personal questions

CPS might ask questions that seem irrelevant to the case at hand. These questions are not necessarily accusations, just ways for them to get the full picture of what goes on in the home. Parents who do not speak English have the right to an interpreter. Everything that is discussed with CPS can be used in court, so it is important for parents to talk to their lawyers before a CPS interview if possible. Parents are also not required to answer every question that CPS asks.

CPS can take your child away and terminate your rights as a parent

If the social worker identifies the household or a family member as being directly threatening to a child, they have the right to take that child away. This is normally the last resort that CPS turns to, as it can be traumatizing for both the child and the parents. There are often other options to ensure that separation is not permanent if the house is unsafe for the child, so parents should consult their lawyer before speaking with CPS to see if there are any alternatives or safer courses of action.

Related: How to Fight Termination of Parental Rights in California

What Are Parents’ Rights When Dealing with Child Protective Services (CPS)?

CPS cannot enter your home without your permission

Although CPS can show up at a home at any point in time, they may not enter a home without the explicit permission of a parent or guardian. The only exception to this rule is if they have a court order or believe a child is in immediate danger. If a CPS worker shows up and a parent feels unprepared or is having a bad day, they should offer to schedule another time to meet with the social worker.

CPS cannot force you to take a drug test

Unless CPS has a court order, they cannot force anyone to take a drug test without their explicit consent. It is okay to tell a social worker that a drug test is irrelevant to a case and they need a court order.

You have the right to a court-appointed attorney if CPS files a lawsuit against you

Parents and guardians have the right to deny any allegations made by CPS. Parents always have the right to an attorney throughout the entire process, including a court-appointed one if a family cannot afford one on their own. Parents also have the right to attend all court hearings pertaining to their case.

FAQs About What Child Protective Services (CPS) Can and Cannot Do in California

When a report is made, is the child always removed from the home?

No, the child is not always removed from the home. In fact, in most cases, the child is not removed from their home. CPS tries its best to keep families together, so they will work with the family to ensure that the household is a safe environment for a child. Taking the children from the home is a last resort solution used in very few cases.

If a child is removed from my home, is it permanent? Is there any way for me to get my child back?

No, a child being removed from a home is not permanent, as CPS is committed to family reunification if possible. However, serious changes will have to be made in the household, as it takes a lot for CPS to remove a child from a home. Parents and/or guardians must work with the state/county in order to get their children back.

The only time that removal from home is permanent is when parents fail to complete court-ordered programs and fail to make the home a safe place for the child. These children may be placed in long-term foster care or with an adoptive family.

In California, Low-Income Parents in Dependency Court Are Entitled to a Free Attorney

If you cannot afford an attorney to represent you in the initial dependency court hearing, the judge will provide an attorney for you. The judge will also appoint a lawyer for the other parent if he or she shows up for the first court hearing.

Watch this video for more information about how to obtain a free attorney to represent you in dependency court.

For Northern California parents: Dependency Legal Services is also a free resource handling CPS/dependency cases (in Lake County, Marin County, Mendocino County, Placer County, Solano County, Sonoma County, Stanislaus County, Yolo County).