Dallas County Public Defender's Office

Child Protective Services (CPS) FAQ's

Frank Crowley Courts – 133 N. Riverfront Boulevard, 9th Floor, Dallas, Texas 75207


DISCLAIMER : EACH CPS CASE IS DIFFERENT. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO HAVE AN ATTORNEY WHO PRACTICES IN THIS SPECIFIC AREA OF FAMILY LAW ASSIST YOU IN EVERY STEP OF YOUR CASE. THE INFORMATION PROVIDED BELOW SHOULD NOT BE RELIED ON AS LEGAL ADVICE, BUT INSTEAD IS INTENDED TO PROVIDE YOU GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICE CASES AND PRACTICES IN DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS. IF YOU HAVE A CPS CASE IN ANOTHER TEXAS COUNTY , OR STATE, YOU SHOULD SEEK ASSISTANCE FROM AN ATTORNEY IN THAT COUNTY OR STATE.

COMMON CPS TERMS

ABUSE - This term refers to something that a caretaker has done, but should not have done, such as physical, sexual, or emotional mistreatment. A caretaker may not be the person who committed the abuse, but they may have failed to prevent it. Also, a parent may have used a substance such as drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, and would be considered by CPS to have committed physical abuse.

NEGLECT - This term may refer to a lack of physical, medical or emotional care when care should be provided. Often it is used to describe a lack of attention to a child's physical surroundings, such as a dirty home, or a failure to take a child to a doctor for a medical condition. CPS may use the abuse or neglect against one child as a reason to be involved with not only that child, but other siblings as well.

CPS/TDFPS - Child Protective Services/Texas Department of Family and Protective Services - This is the state agency charged with investigating allegations of abuse and neglect, and taking appropriate action in cases in which it decides that children are being subjected to, or are at risk of, abuse or neglect.

CPS INVESTIGATION - An investigation by CPS when a referral is received alleging some type of abuse/neglect has occurred regarding a child. If there is an allegation child abuse or neglect, CPS will investigate to determine if it needs to get involved.

REASON TO BELIEVE - When CPS believes that there are facts which support the allegations made, it will make a determination that there was a "reason to believe" that the allegations were true.

RULE OUT - When CPS believes that the abuse or neglect did not occur, it will "rule out" the allegations.

UNABLE TO DETERMINE - When CPS cannot determine whether the allegations are true or not, it will make a finding that it was "unable to determine" the truth of the allegations.

SAFETY PLAN - If CPS is concerned about the children's safety or protection, but it decides not to remove the children from the parent, (or a relative if there is an agreement to place with a relative), it will prepare a "safety plan" which outlines rules for the caretaker to follow to prevent the removal of the children. If the rules are violated, the children may be taken into foster care. If there are questions about what is allowed, always ask the caseworker before assuming that something is okay.

SERVICE PLAN - This is a written document that outlines the tasks that CPS wants the parents to accomplish in order to prevent the children's removal or to return the children to the family. If there are services that are being provided that you feel are not necessary, or if there are additional services that are not being offered but that you would like provided, speak up. If there is a court case pending and CPS is not cooperating on this issue, let the Guardian ad Litem and/or the Judge know about it.

GUARDIAN AD LITEM - When CPS has removed the children and filed a court case, the Judge will appoint a Guardian ad Litem for the children. This is someone, (usually an attorney), who is to look out for the best interests of the children. In cases in which a parent is mentally ill or mentally retarded, the Judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem for that parent to help the parent through this system. The Guardian cannot act as a lawyer unless he or she is also appointed as an Attorney ad Litem to act in a dual role.

ATTORNEY AD LITEM - An Attorney ad Litem is often appointed for the children, so that he or she can file papers with the Court asking for relief on behalf of the children. Usually this is the same person who is appointed as the Guardian ad Litem. An Attorney ad Litem may be appointed for a parent, as noted above.

D.A. - in most cases, the local District Attorney's Office represents CPS. The D.A. should not advise a parent or other party as to how to proceed. Remember that D.A.s are charged with representing CPS, which is not acting on behalf of the parents.

C.A.S.A. - Court Appointed Special Advocates - This agency recruits and trains volunteers who are appointed on some cases to advocate for the best interest of the children. They are not attorneys and are not parties to the suit. They may be called as witnesses at hearings or trials.

CPS HAS RECEIVED A REFERRAL REGARDING MY CHILD - WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

By law, CPS is required to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect. These reports come from the central abuse hot line in Austin and local CPS offices. When a report is received by CPS, CPS must get certain locating information about the child; the alleged abuse and/or neglect; the person(s) accused of the abuse and/or neglect; and locating information for the family.

If the CPS worker believes that a child may have been abused/neglected or is probably in danger of abuse/or neglect, the worker must determine what priority level the report should be given. If a "Priority 1" is given, this means that the report refers to a child who may be at immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or serious harm. 40 Tex. Admin. Code § 700.505(b)(1). All other reports not assigned a "Priority 1" are assigned a "Priority 2" referral. By law, if a case is assigned a "Priority 1", then CPS must investigate the referral within 24 hours of receiving the referral. All "Priority 2" referrals must be initiated within 10 days of receiving the report.

CPS is likely to contact you and your family at some point upon receipt of a report of child abuse and/or neglect.

CPS HAS CONTACTED ME ---- WHAT DO I DO?

Depending on the reason that CPS contacted you, you may consider seeking a lawyer at this point. It is not uncommon for people to try and cooperate with CPS because they feel that they have nothing to hide. Sometimes people do not cooperate with CPS. In both cases, if the referral is substantiated, CPS may remove your children even if you cooperate with them.

You should find out why CPS has contacted you. The person who first contacts you is a CPS investigator. The investigator's job is to determine whether or not the abuse or neglect reported has happened. By law, CPS must tell you what its concerns are and the nature of any referral received that prompted it to contact you. CPS does not (and won't) tell you who called in a referral on you. This information is confidential.

DOES CPS HAVE TO TELL ME THEY ARE COMING OUT?

No. CPS can make unannounced visits to your home. It does not typically come to your place of employment. However, you should know that CPS can also go to see your child anywhere - at school, at a hospital, at a relative or friend's home - anywhere .

WHAT COULD HAPPEN IF CPS IS INVESTIGATING MY FAMILY AND ME?

When CPS begins to investigate your family, it has to make a decision fairly quickly as to whether or not it believes the allegations. The CPS caseworker will usually interview your child(ren) [if they are able to talk]; interview you or the child(ren)'s primary caretakers; the alleged perpetrator(s) --- each person the referral said was responsible for the abuse/neglect; other family members; teachers, etc. Basically, the CPS worker can talk to any and all people who may be able to give the worker information about the referral of abuse/neglect.

Once the investigation is done, the CPS worker will assign a disposition to each allegation of abuse/neglect in the referral. Possible dispositions can be any of the following: "Reason to believe"; "Ruled Out"; "Moved"; "Unable to Determine"; or "Administrative Closure". If an allegation of abuse/neglect is disposed of as "reason to believe", CPS may remove your children, or work out a plan to ensure the safety and welfare of the children if they are not placed in foster care.

CPS HAS TAKEN MY CHILDREN. WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

If CPS removes your children, it must file court papers by the next business day to give notice of the removal, and to request the court's permission to keep the children in foster care for up to fourteen days, at which time a temporary hearing will be held. The papers that it files will contain affidavits which must inform the court of the facts that support the removal of the children, and must be presented to the Judge on the day of the filing, or, if the Judge is unavailable, on the next business day that the Judge is available. You, or your attorney, have a right to be present when the affidavits are presented to the Judge, but no testimony will be taken at that time, and any response must be in the form or affidavits describing your side of the story.

If the Judge allows CPS to keep your children in foster care, there will be a court hearing within 14 days from the date your child(ren) were removed. The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether or not CPS should keep your children on a temporary basis and what your rights and responsibilities will be while CPS has custody of your children. YOU SHOULD NOT MISS THIS HEARING. You have a right to have a lawyer present with you at this hearing. If you want time to get a lawyer, you can ask the Judge for time to hire an attorney. The Judge will usually reset the case for up to14 days and give you time to hire an attorney. The Judge will extend the order giving CPS temporary custody of your children during this time. If you are unable to hire an attorney by the next court date, the Judge will go forward with the hearing.

Some things to consider before your 14-day hearing:

If you have any relatives that may be able to come to court with you and ask for temporary custody of your children, you should bring them to court with you. If they are unable to attend the hearing, you can still request that a home study be done on them. In fact, you can request this before the hearing, and if CPS is cooperative, it may conduct the study before the hearing, and may agree to place the children with the relative at the first hearing.

Dress for court. Even if you don't own a suit and tie (for men), you should always wear neat clean clothing.

Control your emotions when in court. It is difficult to deal with the fact that CPS has removed your children - but you don't want to do anything that is going to make it harder on your children or you during your case. Stay calm.

If possible, take someone with you who can support you through your court hearing.

DO I GET A LAWYER? DO I NEED A LAWYER?

Beware. People will tell you that you don't need a lawyer at this point in your case. Some of these people will be CPS caseworkers, CPS supervisors, CPS's attorney (often times, Assistant District Attorneys, or "DAs"), and the children's court-appointed attorneys (the GAL). You must remember that each of these people has a different interest and role in your case. At this point in your case, you are the only one looking out for you, so you would be wise to have an attorney represent you through your case.

In most cases, you are not entitled to have a lawyer appointed to you at this point in your case. However, you may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney at the beginning of your case if you are mentally ill, mentally retarded, a minor child, or an indigent parent of a child who is American Indian and eligible for enrollment in a tribe*. If you are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney, it is a very good idea for you to hire an attorney at this point. The initial court proceedings are very important to your case. In some cases, you may be able to get your children back at that first hearing. Remember each case is different - you should consult a lawyer immediately.

[* = If you or your child(ren) are of American Indian descent, contact the respective tribes and let them know about your case, and notify CPS and the Court of your child(ren)'s status.]

CPS IS OFFERING ME SERVICES - DO I HAVE TO TAKE THEM IF THEY ARE NOT COURT ORDERED? DO I HAVE TO TAKE THEM IF THEY ARE COURT ORDERED?

First, a few general comments about CPS offered services. If CPS offers you services that are not court-ordered, you must decide whether or not you want to accept the services. You should know that CPS's decisions on whether or not to return your children will be influenced by how well you do and complete the serviced offered to you, regardless of whether or not they are court-ordered. If CPS is offering you services that you feel will help you better provide for your child, then you should probably accept them. You should know that even if the services are not court ordered, your participation will be looked at by CPS and the child(ren)'s Guardian ad Litem.

Typically at the first hearing, CPS (through their attorney - the DA) will ask the court to order you to do certain services while your child(ren) are in care. The usual services are that you have a psychological evaluation done; participate in parenting classes; participate in domestic violence classes and/or counseling (if the referral alleges that there is some kind of domestic violence involving your family); participate in a drug/alcohol assessment; and participate in random drug testing by hair and/or urine testing, if recommended by the assessment.

Your participation in services offered is extremely important. Below are just some of the things you should know about services and your responsibilities:

  • Just because you complete EVERYTHING CPS asks you to do there is no guarantee that you will get your children back.
  • If you fail to complete court-ordered services, your failure will likely be used against you later on in your case.
  • If the results of any of your court ordered services are negative, this negative information can be used against you later on in your case.
  • You should begin working your services immediately. The first three months of your case is crucial because CPS will usually decide within three months whether or not it is probably going to return the children. The faster you begin and complete your services, the better off you are.
  • If you are unable to make an appointment with CPS or any service provider, you should immediately contact your CPS caseworker and the service provider.
  • It is your responsibility to keep up with your services.
  • Document everything! It is a good idea to write down each time you attend, miss, and complete your services.

DO I GET TO VISIT MY CHILD(REN) ONCE CPS HAS TAKEN THEM?

With very few exceptions, CPS should provide you with at least a one-hour visit per week prior to the initial hearing. At the hearing, the Judge will almost always order weekly visitation for the legitimate parents. If the children are placed with relatives, the visits will normally be arranged between you and the relatives. Visits at CPS, and most visits arranged with relatives will be supervised by CPS or the relatives.

HOW CAN I GET MY CHILD(REN) OUT OF FOSTER CARE?

If the Court does not return the children to the parents, they can be placed in the home of a relative or a non-relative who has had a substantial amount of previous contact with the children, such as a godparent. Prior to any such placement, however, CPS will do a home study to make sure that he or she will be a suitable caretaker. They will consider things like prior criminal history, CPS history, size of the home, etc. They do not need to be wealthy, just able to provide for the children's physical and emotional needs. Do not hesitate to ask for home studies on people in other counties or states, or on people who might be distantly related, related to the other parent, or related by marriage. The relatives should also be proactive. If CPS is not acting quickly to set up the home study, the relative should call the caseworker and/or the Guardian ad Litem.

I AM MY CHILD(REN)'S FATHER, BUT I AM NOT MARRIED TO THE MOTHER AND HAVE NEVER GONE TO COURT TO ESTABLISH MY PATERNITY? WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN CPS HAS TAKEN MY CHILD(REN)?

As a biological father, you are entitled to notice of all proceedings, but you do not have the same rights as a legitimate father or as the mother. If notice is not sent to you, call the caseworker and find out what is going on and when the hearings are scheduled. Attend all hearings, meetings and visits, if allowed. You should consider taking steps to legitimate yourself. Sometimes, the Guardian ad Litem will help you with that process, if he or she believes it to be in the children's best interest. If not, you can attempt to get a court-appointed lawyer, hire one, or represent yourself.

WHAT IS A STATUS/REVIEW HEARING?

Within 60 days of the children's placement in foster care, the Court will hold a hearing to monitor the status of the case, including whether or not the parents and CPS are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Normally no changes are made in the court orders. By this hearing, CPS should have scheduled the services for the parents and children, and the parents should have begun participating in those services.

WHAT IS A PRETRIAL OR PERMANENCY HEARING?

Depending on which Court you are in, the next hearing after the Status/Review Hearing will be called a Pretrial or a Permanency Hearing, and will usually be about 2 months after the Status/Review Hearing. If it is a Permanency Hearing, there will be a Pretrial at a later date. At the pretrial, most Courts require that CPS or another party to the lawsuit file a request for some permanent orders, or the case may be dismissed. The most common requests are for the children to be returned to the parent, (usually with some level of monitoring by CPS), permanent placement with relatives and visitation for the parents (with the parents possibly court-ordered to pay child support), permanent placement with CPS and visitation for the parents (with the parents possibly court-ordered to pay child support), or to terminate the parents rights to the children.

CPS HAS FILED TO TERMINATE MY PARENTAL RIGHTS. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

First remember that just because the request to terminate has been made does not mean that the termination will take place. However, that request is not usually made unless CPS believes it has a valid reason. It should not be taken lightly. If you do not already have an attorney, request one. The Family Code requires that the Court appoint a lawyer for an indigent parent in a termination suit brought by a governmental agency (CPS). If the Court appoints an attorney, contact that person as soon as possible, and schedule a time to meet with him or her. The attorney cannot help you without your cooperation.

WHAT IS A MEDIATION? FINAL HEARING?

Mediation is a meeting with all parties to the lawsuit and a neutral mediator who is trained to help people settle their cases. It is not a hearing. The mediator does not listen to all sides and make a decision. He or she will help all sides understand the position of the other, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of their own case, and try to find a compromise that will satisfy everyone. Everyone must attend a court-ordered mediation, but it is not required that the case settle. If a case is successfully mediated, the agreement will be presented to the Court at a final hearing (a prove-up), and will become the order of the Court, unless the Judge does not believe it to be in the children's best interest. These agreements are binding on everyone who signs them and will almost never be set aside.

If the case does not settle, a trial will be scheduled, either before a judge or a jury. All sides, including the Guardian/Attorney ad Litem for the child, will have an opportunity to present evidence to support the relief they have requested, and a Judge or jury will decide what should happen.

HOW LONG CAN MY CPS CASE GO ON?

The Texas Family Code requires that these cases be finalized within one year of the date that CPS is appointed Temporary Managing Conservator of the children. Usually, these cases are resolved in about ten months.

The Court has the authority to grant one extension of 180 days if the Judge finds such an extension to be in the children's best interest. Most judges are reluctant to grant the extension. Because of the short time frame, it is very important to act quickly in getting services completed, and in getting home studies done.