Child Protective Services
A full discussion of Nevada's Child Protection statutes is beyond the scope of this manual. This manual is intended to provide general information only; it is not a substitute for legal advice from an attorney that is specific to your case. If CPS files a petition charging you with abuse or neglect of your children, you are strongly urged to consult an attorney. If the state files a petition to terminate your parental rights, you are entitled to have an attorney appointed for you, if you cannot afford to hire one.
What is Child Protective Services (CPS)?
Child Protective Services (CPS), part of the Clark County Department of Family Services, is the County agency responsible for protecting children and helping families.
How does CPS get involved with my family?
CPS might get involved with a family when someone reports that a child is at risk of abuse or neglect by a caregiver (this sometimes includes being present in the home while domestic violence by/against a caregiver is occurring). CPS can also get involved if you voluntarily request their services. CPS is the County agency responsible for the welfare of children and the removal of your children from your home is one possible outcome of your dealings with CPS. CPS can make referrals to the District Attorney for civil action if they believe that a child has been the victim of abuse and/or neglect (which could also result in a criminal prosecution if the DA believes a crime has been committed).
Who filed the report?
CPS can't tell you the name of the person who reported you. Reports may be made anonymously (by someone who doesn't give a name). Many professionals who come into contact with children through their work, such as doctors, teachers, and day care workers, are required by law to contact CPS and file a report if they think a child may have been abused or neglected. Although the CPS worker cannot tell you who reported, he or she must be as specific as possible in telling you what they have been told. Sometimes you can figure out who made the report. If you think your abuser has reported you out of anger or for revenge for leaving him, tell the CPS worker this suspicion.
In general, how should I deal with CPS?
CPS has a very serious job - to protect children. Doing that job sometimes means removing children from their parents. It is important to remember that removal of your children is a possible outcome of your dealings with them. You should avoid unnecessarily upsetting CPS (for example, swearing at your worker). This is a difficult time. You may be angry at what you feel are false accusations and judgments by strangers, but remember what the CPS worker is trying to do - protect your children. If you don't cooperate with CPS (for example, if you don't call back or miss your appointments) you may lose all credibility with your worker. What you say to CPS is not confidential: anything you say to your CPS worker can be used in a court case. CPS cares about everything that affects your child - whether it is the party your sister gives while babysitting or your abuser's pushing and shoving. They want to know what efforts you are making to deal with things that they think are harmful to your children.
Can CPS take my children even if I didnât know about the report?
If the report describes an emergency, CPS may take your children into emergency protective custody without notifying you ahead of time. If this emergency procedure is used, you may not know about the report until the police come with the CPS worker to remove your children.
What should I do if CPS takes my children without telling me first?
This is called "protective custody." Even if you have been working with CPS, if your CPS worker feels your children are in imminent danger, they may take your children into "protective custody," to prevent further abuse or neglect. Call CPS or Family Court to find out when CPS is going to bring your case before the judge. See Question 27 below for more discussion of protective custody procedures.
Does CPS file criminal charges?
No. CPS does not file criminal charges, nor do they have the power to arrest. However, if CPS supports a report of sexual abuse, serious injury, or death, the law requires them to notify the District Attorney, who can decide whether or not to pursue criminal charges. In addition, CPS works in partnership with law enforcement on serious cases (such as sexual abuse or other serious physical injury) and law enforcement may refer the case to the District Attorney for criminal charges.
Does CPS listen to every report?
Every report of abuse or neglect is either "screened in" or "screened out." Sometimes when the CPS worker is sure the report is false, the charge can be screened out. The report can also be screened out if the reporter calls about something outdated, for example an event that happened five years ago, and he or she has no new information. The law requires that CPS investigate every "screened in" report. Screening in a call does not mean CPS believes there is abuse or neglect. It just means a CPS investigator will be assigned to investigate the report to see if it is true or false.
Once a report is made, how soon will an investigation occur?
If CPS determines there is an emergency, a CPS worker will investigate the report within twenty-four hours.
Do I have to talk to the CPS investigator?
You have the right to refuse to participate in an investigation as well as the right to refuse permission for the CPS investigator to enter your home. However, if CPS believes that your child is in immediate danger, they may try to get the police or courts to help them so they can see your child. Refusing may make them suspicious that there is something wrong that you are trying to hide. Try to talk to an attorney or advocate before you decide not to cooperate with CPS.
How should I handle the investigation?
Ask what the specific charges are. Try to stay on the topic of the specific charges. The CPS investigator could say things that may make you upset. Try not to lose your temper. Take notes if it is helpful. The CPS investigator may want you to sign "releases" in order to receive information from third parties (such as your doctor or the childrenâs teachers). Read everything over carefully. You can ask to have these releases reviewed by a lawyer before you sign. Do not sign anything that you do not understand. You can ask to keep the releases so you can speak with a lawyer and turn the releases in within the next day or two. It is especially important for you to talk to a lawyer if you know that things have been going on that CPS will not approve of (for example, you know you have a serious problem with alcohol or drugs, you have been engaging in criminal activity, you have been abusive to the children; remember that CPS can refer matters to the District Attorney for criminal prosecution). If you choose to sign the releases, sign only completed forms that specify the person from whom information is sought and identify the information requested. You can also place a time limit during which CPS is allowed to obtain the information. If CPS does not try to get the information before the date you place on the form, the releases will expire. Get copies of everything the CPS investigator wants you to sign.
What happens during an investigation?
In a non-emergency investigation, a CPS investigator will contact you. This investigator will complete an initial investigation, trying to find out if your children are being abused or neglected. If the CPS investigator comes to your home, it is a good idea to have a domestic violence advocate or a friend present. Ask that person to take notes of what happens. The CPS investigator will want to discuss the allegations, or claims, in the report. However, the investigation may touch on other things that were not mentioned in the report. The discussion may focus on almost any part of your life. The CPS investigator might want to see the children in your home, particularly the child about whom the report was made. The investigator may want to examine your home or talk with day care workers, relatives, doctors and other people who are familiar with you and your children. After this initial investigation, CPS has to make a decision about whether the child is being neglected or abused. Note that CPS can "substantiate" the abuse or neglect charge even if the specific incident that started the investigation turns out to be false, if the investigation uncovers another condition that he or she believes puts your child at risk. For example: a nurse reports a bruise on your child to CPS. The CPS investigator finds your child got the bruise during recess at school. However, CPS also learns from the child that there is domestic violence in your home. The worker may substantiate the report if the domestic violence places the child at risk for abuse.
What happens after the investigation is completed?
CPS will either "substantiate" or "not substantiate" the original report. An unsubstantiated report means that the CPS investigator found no evidence that your children were abused or neglected. A substantiated report means that the CPS investigator believes there is evidence tending to show that your children were abused or neglected or are at risk of abuse or neglect. You should receive a letter telling you if the report was substantiated. However, CPS does not send you a letter if the allegations are not substantiated.
What if the report is substantiated?
If the report is substantiated, CPS will begin an "assessment" of your family. (See Question 15 for more about assessments). CPS can do a number of things during this time:
CPS may offer services to your family.
CPS may ask you to voluntarily agree to place your children elsewhere for a time (such as with a relative). If the CPS worker asks you to sign a "voluntary placement agreement," ask for the chance to talk to a lawyer or advocate before you sign.
If you refuse to sign a voluntary agreement, or CPS decides that your children are at immediate risk, CPS may go to Juvenile Court to try to get custody of your children.
What is an assessment?
A CPS assessment is done to determine if your family needs services and, if so, who can best provide those services. The CPS investigator uses the assessment as an opportunity to get to know you and your family. This is a good time for you to find out what services CPS offers and whether your family could benefit from those services. This assessment must be completed within forty-five days from the date the report is substantiated. If the CPS investigator substantiates the report, another CPS worker will be assigned to continue with your case and develop a "case plan."
What is a case plan?
CPS provides services to strengthen and/or reunite families in which an abuse or neglect report was substantiated. This is true whether your children remain in your home or are placed in temporary foster care. Services may include: day care, parent-aides, counseling for you and your children, and parenting education. The case plan will describe the services you are to receive as well as what you will be expected to do.
You are expected to comply with your case plan if you sign it. It is important to understand what is expected. A case plan can be used in court to show what you agreed to do and what services were offered. If you refuse services or are unable to participate in them, CPS may seek custody of your children on the grounds that you failed to accept necessary services, or you accepted them but failed to do what the service provider expected of you. You may wish to contact a lawyer or domestic violence advocate before signing your case plan. Work out the terms of the case plan before signing. For example, if you don't have any transportation to go where you are asked, or if you think you are being scheduled for too many appointments at the same time, discuss these problems with your CPS worker. If you later find you are having trouble meeting the case plan, ask to revise it. Don't stop doing what you agreed to do without having a meeting, or at least writing to CPS to explain why you canât continue with the case plan that you signed.
I don't like my CPS worker. What can I do?
It is very important that you try to have a good working relationship with your CPS worker, but remember, a working relationship is not a friendship. It will not reflect well on you if you can't get along with your CPS worker. However, if there is a real problem, ask to speak to the worker's supervisor. Be specific about your complaints - what exactly has the CPS worker done or not done, when did this happen, why is this a problem for you, etc. You must remember that both the Juvenile Court and CPS take "failing to cooperate" very seriously, and try to resolve any issues you have with your CPS worker instead of avoiding them. If speaking with the supervisor is unsuccessful, ask the judge whether he/she will appoint an attorney to assist you (it is usually not a good idea to ask the judge to appoint a new CPS worker). Even if none of these efforts work, the one thing you must not do is abandon the case plan that has been set out for you. This could lead to very bad consequences, such as, a termination of your parental rights to your children. Remember also, that you may need your worker as a resource in your Family Court case (for example, to verify to the court that your abuser should not have custody because he is also abusive to your child).
My CPS worker has said I have to get a protection order. Do I?
Sometimes a CPS worker may urge you to seek a protective order, so that the abuser is ordered to stay away or stop abusing you. If you feel that an order would help you, then you might want to meet with a Safe Nest or SAFE House advocate to talk about it or go to the Family Court yourself and discuss the matter with staff at the Family Violence Intervention Program. On the other hand, if your worker is insisting that you get a protection order and you think this is something that threatens your personal safety, explain this to the CPS worker and if that doesnât succeed, to the worker's supervisor. Ultimately the decision whether or not to seek a protective order is yours. However, CPS could try to remove your children from the home if you donât figure out a way to protect them.
My CPS worker says I have to go to counseling. Do I?
It is a good idea to cooperate with reasonable requests. If CPS wants you to join a support group, join if you can. You may find it useful to talk to other women about what goes on in your home. Going to a mental health counselor does not mean you are "crazy" (as your abuser may have been telling you for a while). It isnot a bad thing to have someone to talk to about things that have gone on in your relationship. It is more appropriate to "vent" to a therapist than to your CPS worker. However, if you signed a release of information form for CPS, the therapist might end up giving a report to CPS. The therapist could also be called to testify in court. It is important to discuss this issue of confidentiality with the therapist, because the normal "privilege" of confidentiality does not necessarily apply where the counseling is ordered as part of a case plan. Also, remember that therapists are "mandated reporters" which means they have to tell CPS if they think your child is at risk based on things you reveal in counseling (for example, you tell the therapist your abuser is hitting your children.)
My worker has said if I go back to him, I will lose my children. What should I do?
If CPS is wrong in their judgment (that is, your boyfriend or husband is not a danger to you or your children), try to show them their mistake. But if you cannot convince CPS to change its position, you have a tough choice to make. If you get back together and CPS thinks his presence in your household presents a risk of harm to your children, CPS may ask the court to give them custody. It is up to the judge to decide who gets custody, but having CPS against you makes it difficult to win. Ultimately, if the Department of Child and Family Services brings an action to terminate your parental rights, you should have an attorney to assist you in these proceedings (the court will appoint one for you if you cannot afford to pay). If you intend to go back to your boyfriend or husband against CPSâ recommendations, be sure to discuss this decision with your lawyer.
He is threatening to report me to CPS. What should I do?
Abusers sometimes retaliate against victims by calling CPS and making allegations of abuse or neglect. When CPS investigates and finds out his claims are not true, they can also learn from the investigation about his abuse. It is usually best to cooperate with CPS under these circumstances. (Let him be the one not to cooperate when CPS wants to visit his home, make an appointment, or give him a case plan). Tell the CPS investigator the circumstances giving rise to the report and remain as calm and as organized as possible. It is usually worthwhile to have a friend or domestic violence advocate with you. Understand that if CPS learns that the children are being exposed to violence and abuse, they will want to see you deal with it.
He reported me to CPS with lies and then filed for custody in Family Court and told the judge I was in trouble with CPS so he could get custody. What should I do?
Tell the judge his report was not true and was an attempt to further abuse you, and that CPS has not filed a case in Juvenile Court to try to get custody of your children (the judge will be able to confirm this with the Courtâs own records). Again, if the things he told CPS are not true, you are best off cooperating with CPS so that they can see that for themselves. (See Question 4 in this Section.) CPS can tell the judge that the report was unsubstantiated and/or recommend to the judge that the children remain with you because of the abusive things he has done. (CPS does not like to be in the middle of custody battles. However, the judge can, and often does, ask for the CPS worker's opinion as to what is best for your child.)
Can the Family Court judge involve CPS on his/her own?
Yes, if the judge listening to your Family Court case gets concerned about the safety of your children, he/she may order that CPS take temporary custody of your children, even if neither one of you wants that. For example, if the Family Court judge hears your partner say that you drink too much and hears you say that your abuser is a very dangerous person, he may feel the family environment is too unsafe for your children and ask CPS to take custody right away.
The Family Court judge said he is considering giving custody to CPS. What should I do?
If you can convince the judge that what your abuser has said is untrue, do so. For example, if you don't drink, tell the judge (or, if you did drink, you are now rehabilitated and go to AA regularly). If he makes the decision to place the children in CPS custody, you can ask for five minutes to calm down and return to court and ask the judge to reconsider his decision. If the judge's decision stands, work with the assigned CPS investigator. The investigator can decide that your child should remain in your home (even though CPS has legal custody of them). If CPS discovers that there is no reason for them to have custody of your children, CPS can return to court and request that custody be returned to you or a third party, such as a relative. If CPS agrees with the judge that there are some concerns, it may take some time for you to regain custody of your children. There will most likely be an assessment period (forty-five days) and a case plan will be developed (which can be months, even years in duration). Do your best to cooperate with CPS.
I didn't do anything. Why is this case open on me?
CPS knows that witnessing domestic violence is harmful to children (many studies have supported this), and CPSâ role is to protect children. You don't choose to be abused, and you don't have control over the violence. But, CPS opens its cases in the motherâs name. They will label this type of case a "neglect" case, because you are "neglecting" your children by exposing them to the abuse. CPS wants to keep your children safe. However, CPS should understand your need to be safe too. Your CPS worker should try to help you and your children without blaming you for the abuse, so long as you are willing to be cooperative and try to insure your childrenâs safety.
Can I disagree with CPS?
If you disagree with something your CPS worker proposes to require in your case plan, tell your CPS worker or, if that does not help, tell his or her supervisor about your disagreement. You can submit a written statement with the facts you think demonstrate why what CPS proposes is not in your childrenâs best interest. You should also bring it to the judgeâs attention and, if necessary, ask the judge to appoint an attorney to make certain that your childrenâs interests are being protected.
Help! I just got notice that CPS took my children and that there will be a Protective Custody hearing? What do I do?
A protective custody hearing happens within 48 hours after children are removed from a home on an emergency basis, to protect them from abuse or neglect. Emergency removal can happen at any time, even if the family is cooperating with CPS! The purpose of the hearing is to determine if the child should remain in the protective custody of CPS or if he/she can be released to parents or other caretakers.
Be sure to go to court for your hearing. If the judge decides that your child must remain in protective custody, CPS has 10 days to file a petition against you and your abuser alleging abuse or neglect. The petition must specifically state the reasons the child was brought into custody.
What happens if the judge keeps my children in protective custody?
There will be a "Plea Hearing", which will be your opportunity to go before the judge to dispute certain CPS decisions or actions. The judge will give you a date for the "Step" or "Plea" hearing and you should consider talking to a lawyer before this hearing. Note that you do not have the right to have counsel appointed for you for this hearing unless you are eligible under the Indian Child Welfare Act. In exceptional cases, the judge may appoint an attorney for you if you request it. (However, if a decision is made to ask to court to terminate your parental rights to your children, you will be entitled to a court-appointed attorney, free of charge, if you cannot afford to hire one.)
At this point, you must enter a "plea", which means you must respond to the allegations of abuse and/or neglect set out in the petition. Even if you admit the allegations or plead "no contest", CPS is supposed to continue working with you to try to reunify your family (that is, return your children to you). If you deny the allegations in the petition, the judge will set the matter for trial.
What will happen after the Step/Plea Hearing?
A Report and Disposition (R&D) Hearing occurs 30 days after CPS files its petition to obtain custody of your child. Between the plea (or step) hearing and the R&D Hearing, CPS will develop a case plan with the parents (and their attorneys, if applicable). You should review the proposed case plan and notify the CPS worker if you do not agree with its contents. This case plan will be presented to the judge at the R&D hearing, and the judge will ask CPS for a recommendation concerning placement of the child.
If my child is returned to me after the R & D hearing, am I done?
No. There are likely to be status checks on the case every 30 days to 6 months. The purpose of the status checks is to keep the judge informed about the progressof the case plan. Within 6 months after the initial removal from your home, the law requires that the judge have a permanent plan in place for the children. If you are complying with your case plan, the permanent plan will be "reunification" or continued in-home placement. If you are not complying with your case plan, the judge could order that a termination of parental rights petition be filed.