Anyone can report a parent for suspected child abuse or neglect in Washington. Child Protective Services (CPS) will evaluate the referral and screen it for child abuse or neglect. The case may then be referred to a Family Assessment Response or investigation. If it is determined that the child is facing an imminent threat of harm or abuse, the child may be removed from the home and placed in protective services.
After a child is removed from the home, the child may be separated from the parents until a time when the court determines it is safe for the child to return home.
Child Abuse and Neglect Defined
Under RCW 26.44.020, abuse or neglect means, “sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or injury of a child by any person under circumstances which cause harm to the child's health, welfare, or safety,” or “the negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for or providing care to the child.”
CPS Investigations in Washington
A CPS investigation is generally started after a referral of child abuse or neglect. The referral can come from anyone, including other family members, teachers, nurses or healthcare professionals, the police, or anyone else who suspects a child is being abused or neglected.
A CPS investigation can involve a visit to the child's home, interview with the parents, and inspection and recording of the home and property. An investigation may also include a face-to-face interview with the child and medical examination of the child. CPS may also interview anyone who may have knowledge of the child, parents, or allegations of abuse, including:
- Non-custodial parents,
- Medical providers,
- Childcare providers,
- Neighbors, or
- Other adults or children living in the home.
If the CPS investigation determines there is a present danger to the child or any children in the household, the investigator may take immediate action and the child can be placed in protective custody. If there is not a present danger, the CPS investigator will generally complete the CPS investigation and provide a report within 90 days.
If the CPS investigation determines the child has been abused or is in danger, CPS may file a dependency petition against the parents. The dependency court process will have the State take temporary custody of the child until a point when the parents can provide a safe and stable home environment.
Family Assessment Response
A Family Assessment Response (FAR) is different than a CPS investigation. It is an alternative to the CPS investigation. CPS works with families to support the family and safety of the child(ren). Generally, the FAR is used where there is no immediate danger to the child and no serious abuse involved. The FAR seeks “a comprehensive assessment of child safety, risk of subsequent child abuse or neglect, and family strengths and needs that is applied to a child abuse or neglect report.”
A family assessment response is not used to determine whether child abuse or neglect occurred. Instead, it focuses on the safety of the child, preservation of the family, the risks of abuse or neglect to the child, and the caretaker's willingness and ability to protect the child. The assessment can be used to determine the need for services for the parents to address the safety of the child and the risk of possible mistreatment.
However, in the course of a family assessment response, if it is determined that the child is in immediate risk of harm or has been seriously abused, the child may be removed and placed in protective custody.
Consequences of a Founded Finding
A founded finding is a determination by CPS that the allegations of abuse or child neglect are founded or true. The consequences of a founded finding can follow an individual for years and affect their future. A founded finding may make it impossible for the individual to get a job as a nurse, caregiver for children, or even volunteering work that involves access to children or vulnerable adults.
A CPS finding is separate from any criminal charges. However, a CPS investigation for abuse or neglect can lead to a referral to law enforcement and separate criminal charges, including the possibility of jail time.
If a parent receives a founded finding letter, the individual has 30 days to ask for a review to challenge the finding. If the CPS supervisor affirms the finding, the parent has 30 days to file for an Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) hearing. Talk to your lawyer about challenging these findings to protect your future.
Responsibility for Abuse by Another Family Member
Even if one parent does not abuse or neglect the child, the parent can be held responsible for failing to protect the child against abuse in the home. This includes sexual abuse by another child in the home or abuse by another parent or adult in the home.
Seattle Abuse and Neglect Defense Lawyer
A CPS complain of abuse or neglect can expose you to criminal penalties, affect your future job opportunities, and result in having your child taken away. At Burke Brown Attorneys, PLLC, we have helped parents and family members handle CPS and criminal abuse investigations, challenge CPS findings and fight to keep custody of their children. Call us today at (206) 933-2414 or contact us online.