Legal Questions? / Legal Answers!
Can Child Protective Services Take Your Children?
"In order to keep children safe, the State of Maine created The Department of Child Protective Services. An agency formed to help with the prevention of child abuse, through education and enforcement. Nobody wants to see any child abused for any reason and most of the time the C.P.S. Department does a tremendous job. However, as some of us have read recently, the system isn't perfect. D.H.H.S. and a few of their social workers, have come under investigation themselves. The 2001 case of Logan Mars. The 2013 case of welfare fraud where a social worker stole nearly $50.000 in benefits. The 2013 -2015 allegation of D.H.H.S.'s failure to investigate the deaths of 133 people. All with developmental disabilities, and all while under the care of their community-based providers. I was a State of Maine Foster Parent for 12 years. I myself, have questioned some of the "allegations" of abuse made by the Dept, against a couple of the parents who's kids I was given to care for. The Department and their agency's are not flawless and you do have rights. Sometimes it may seem like they hold all the cards, but they can be challenged. It's your right to do so."
So lets get to the main question I am asked all the time. Does D.H.H.S. have a right to enter your home to check on your children, if a call or an allegation of abuse has been made to them from an outside source? That answer is NO they do not. If they do not have a warrant, they have no right to enter your residence. Their next response will probably be "I'll call the Police and they will make you let me enter, to check on the welfare of your child." Well, that also is NOT correct. Don't let the Police scare you into allowing them to enter your apt. or home, without a warrant. Your constitutional rights protect you from unlawful searches. Just recently I received a call from a mother who told me D.H.H.S. came into her home, checked every room and opened all her cupboards and drawers. All in an attempt to check on the welfare of her children? Not really. They were looking for anything else that might help them convince a Judge to allow them to take her kids. Did she have to let them in? NO. She was scared into it. No one had a warrant. Did they take her children. Yes, they did.
So, you do not have to allow D.H.H.S. into your home. Even if they bring back a Police Officer HOWEVER, if the Officer sees something or hears something and is able to determine that your child is at an immediate risk of abuse, they can enter your home with the intent to protect the child. Understand this means sees or hears. The Officer's belief in the allegation, told to him through a CPS worker, is still not enough for intent to believe a risk of abuse. He still needs a warrant.
This being said, if a Social Worker does knock on your door with allegations, remain cordial and explain that you would rather not engage in conversation until you have called your attorney. They have to give you a chance to do that. If you cannot afford an Attorney perhaps a call to Pinetree Legal might help. If they cannot represent you, maybe they could at least answer any questions you may have.
"Of course bringing the child out to the Social Worker may also be a better solution. If there is nothing to be afraid of, tell them you will bring the child outside to them. Close the door and go get your child. They need to see your child, so they can make a determination on the "alleged" allegations. Not a determination based on the condition of your house or who may be inside visiting you at the time of their unexpected visit. Do not let them enter your home. If they need to inspect your child and there is no reason not to allow it, let them do so and be done with it. I would also highly recommend bringing someone outside with you, who can witness everything said and done. That also is your right to do. If you have no problem allowing D.H.H.S. to examine your child, but would feel better doing so with YOUR witness present, do so. If no one is available right then, ask the worker to please wait or to come back until you can call someone. This is also your right to do. Once your witness shows up, have them stay with you until D.H.H.S. has finished their investigation. If D.H.H.S. determines that the allegations are false, they will make a note in their case log. If the allegation arises again from the same source, it probably will not be believed. If they believe the allegation is correct, you will at least have a witness to all that was said or promised to you"
Make no mistake, if your child is brought into a Doctor's office, a hospital or a school nurse's office, and is alleged to have been abused, a call to D.H.H.S. will be made and every attempt to protect that child, including taking all the children from the home, will be made. D.H.H.S. will determine quickly if they need a Police Officer to write up in their report, that they believe the child is at immediate risk of neglect or abuse. This will be based on their interview with your child or any bruises or unexplained marks found. Do they have the right to discuss or ask your child questions about the bruise or mark? Yes, they do. They are attempting to keep a child safe, not challenging your parental rights. The schools are mandated by law to contact both D.H.H.S. and the Police, who then will contact you.
If D.H.H.S. ever takes your child or children and you cannot afford an Attorney, one will be appointed to you by a Judge. But that will take a court date, which may be weeks away. I wouldn't wait for that to happen. I would suggest calling Pinetree Legal that day. If D.H.H.S. has already removed your children from your home, they might help you quicker than waiting for a Judge to appoint you an Attorney. Even when appointed, the Attorney has to be called, so an appointment can be made to meet. He may even want to postpone meeting with you until the D.H.H.S. paperwork can be sent to him. Move quickly to secure an Attorney and get your questions answered. Your first question should be, "what do I need to do or get done, to get my children back?"
P.T.L. has a a great website and goes into this subject in great depth. I would suggest checking out the following links:
P.T.L. - What D.H.H.S. Does When Given A Complaint Of Child Neglect Or Abuse?
P.T.L. - What Happens If D.H.H.S. Gets A P.P.O. And Takes My Children?
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My Final Thought...
"Most everyone is a bit cautious when having
to deal with D.H.H.S. and the Social Workers
of C.P.S. I always recommend to people to
do what is necessary to protect your rights
but do so in a mature manner. You don't need
to yell or be aggressive to the C.P.S. worker
or Officer. That could all work against you.
Remember to be respectful and just state
your rights and what you'd be willing to
do. You have a right to speak to an Attorney
and have a witness with you to any interactions
you have with D.H.H.S. Just tell the Social
Worker you are not comfortable with their
request at this time but will contact them
once you have either reached an Attorney
or secured a witness. If they threaten to
return with an Officer remember, you still
do not have to open your door unless the
Officer sees or hears something that helps
them to determine, that your child is at