12 Mistakes to Avoid When Dealing with Child Protective Services

Child Protective Services (CPS) is a government agency with a pivotal role in safeguarding the welfare of children. However, interacting with CPS can be a daunting and overwhelming experience. Knowing what mistakes to avoid can make all the difference, helping to ensure the best possible outcome for your family.

Understanding the Role of Child Protective Services

What Does CPS Do?

CPS is primarily responsible for investigating reports of child abuse or neglect. Their role is to intervene when necessary to protect the child’s safety and promote their well-being. Understanding CPS’s purpose can help you navigate interactions with them more successfully.

CPS Procedure

When CPS receives a report, they’ll initiate an investigation. This typically involves interviews with the child, family members, and relevant parties. CPS may also request medical records or school reports as part of the investigation.

12 Common Mistakes To Avoid With Child Protective Services

1. Not Taking CPS Seriously

One of the most crucial mistakes is not taking CPS seriously. No matter how minor it may seem, any investigation by CPS should be treated with utmost seriousness. Ignoring the gravity of the situation can lead to adverse consequences, including CPS taking your children. 

2. Ignoring CPS

Don’t ignore letters, calls, or visits from CPS. Ignoring them can worsen the situation and lead to more serious consequences, such as CPS removing your children.

Failing to properly return phone calls and failing to read or respond to paperwork from CPS can cause miscommunication, missed deadlines, or overlooked crucial information—all of which can negatively affect your case.

3. Being Uncooperative

CPS is there to ensure the safety of your child. Being uncooperative with the investigation can lead to mistrust, prolong the process, and potentially harm your case.

4. Not Asking What The Allegations Are Against You

CPS is required by law to inform you about the allegations made against you. When a CPS investigation is launched, the agency should provide the parent or caregiver with an initial explanation of the reported child abuse or neglect claims. 

Failing to inquire about the specific allegations and potential charges can have serious repercussions. You need to know the specifics of the allegations to communicate with the investigators and help your attorney with your defense. 

5. Not Having An Attorney

Having an attorney when Child Protective Services (CPS) is investigating is highly advisable, especially if the case can result in serious consequences, such as removing a child from the home. 

Tim’s Legal Tip: While having legal representation during a CPS investigation isn’t mandatory, having an attorney can provide crucial benefits. An attorney well-versed in family law can guide you through the complexities of the legal system, help protect your rights, and advocate for your interests. 

They can help you understand the allegations made against you, prepare you for interviews, review any paperwork, and provide advice on how to navigate the process best.

On the other hand, not having an attorney can potentially put you at a disadvantage for several reasons:

  • Lack of Legal Knowledge: The legal system can be complex and confusing for someone unfamiliar with it. You may not fully understand your rights, the severity of the allegations, or the potential consequences. An attorney can help clarify these aspects for you.
  • Missteps in the Process: Without legal guidance, you might unknowingly make errors during the investigation, such as unintentionally providing incriminating information or failing to respond correctly to specific inquiries.
  • Lack of Advocacy: An attorney can speak on your behalf and represent your best interests throughout the investigation. Without this advocacy, your viewpoint may not be presented as effectively.
  • Increased Stress: Facing a CPS investigation can be emotionally stressful. Having an attorney can provide peace of mind, knowing that a professional is handling the legal aspects of your case.

6. Giving a Statement To CPS Without Your Attorney Being Present

As with any legal matter, it’s typically advisable not to speak with Child Protective Services (CPS) without your attorney present. Here’s why:

  • Legal Guidance: An attorney can provide essential legal guidance during your conversations with CPS, helping you understand what information you should or shouldn’t disclose. This can help you avoid potential self-incrimination.
  • Protecting Your Rights: An attorney can protect your rights during your interactions with CPS. They can clarify what you’re legally obliged to do and what you can decline and help you avoid any missteps that could inadvertently harm your case.
  • Advocacy: Your attorney can advocate on your behalf during conversations with CPS, ensuring your perspective is effectively communicated, and your interests are represented. 

Choosing not to have an attorney during a CPS investigation can potentially lead to several adverse consequences:

  • Self-Incrimination: Without an attorney’s guidance, you may unintentionally provide CPS with information that could be used against you, potentially harming your case.
  • Rights Violation: Without a thorough understanding of your legal rights, you may inadvertently allow violations to occur during the investigation.
  • Inadequate Representation: Without an attorney to advocate for you, your interests and perspective might not be adequately represented.
  • Increased Stress and Confusion: Navigating a CPS investigation can be overwhelming and confusing. Without an attorney, you bear the burden of dealing with these complexities on your own, which can add to your stress and anxiety.

7. Signing Documents Without Understanding 

CPS may ask you to sign various documents. Don’t sign anything without fully understanding what it is or having it reviewed by your attorney.

8. Losing Your Temper

It can be stressful to deal with CPS, but losing your temper won’t help your case. It’s crucial to remain calm and respectful at all times.

9. Missing Court Dates or Meetings

You must attend every court proceeding and meeting related to your case. Failing to do so can be viewed negatively and can harm your case.

10. Violating Court Orders

Violating court orders related to a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation can have serious consequences. Court orders are legal mandates, and failing to comply with them can lead to penalties and can negatively impact your case. 

Here are some potential consequences:

  • Legal Penalties: These can range from fines to jail time, depending on the nature and severity of the violation.
  • Loss of Custody or Visitation Rights: If the court order pertains to child custody or visitation and you violate it, the court can change the custody or visitation arrangements. In severe cases, you could lose custody or visitation rights entirely.
  • Adverse Impact on Your Case: Violating a court order can negatively affect the outcome of your CPS case. It can lead to a negative perception of your reliability and responsibility, impacting the court’s decisions regarding your parental rights.
  • Mandatory Participation in Programs: Depending on the violation, the court may order you to participate in specific programs, such as parenting classes, counseling, or substance abuse treatment.

11. Not Taking Corrective Action

If Child Protective Services (CPS) raises a legitimate issue regarding your child’s welfare, it’s crucial to take corrective action promptly. 

This demonstrates your commitment to your child’s well-being and your willingness to cooperate with CPS, which can be beneficial for your case.

Corrective action can take various forms depending on the issue raised. This might include seeking counseling or therapy, participating in parenting classes, making necessary home improvements for safety, or seeking medical care for the child.

The consequences of not taking corrective action can be severe:

  • Prolonged CPS Involvement: If you fail to address the issues raised, CPS will likely continue their involvement with your family, potentially leading to further investigations and interventions.
  • Adverse Impact on Your Case: Ignoring the issues identified by CPS could negatively impact your case. The court may view this as a lack of willingness to improve conditions for your child, which could affect custody decisions.
  • Potential Legal Consequences: In severe cases, failure to rectify issues could lead to legal repercussions, including loss of custody, supervised visitation, or even criminal charges in instances of neglect or abuse.
  • Risk to Child’s Well-being: Failing to address legitimate concerns means potentially exposing your child to harmful situations or conditions that aren’t in their best interest.

12. Not Following Your Attorney’s Advice

 If you have legal counsel, following their advice is crucial. They have experience in these matters and know how to navigate the system.

The Consequences of These Mistakes

The repercussions of these mistakes can be far-reaching. Not only can they impede the investigation, but they can also negatively impact your relationship with CPS, possibly even jeopardizing your parental rights.

Best Practices When Dealing with CPS

Honesty and Openness

Honesty is the best policy. Be as open and forthcoming with CPS as you can. This helps establish trust and aids in the efficient resolution of the investigation.

Respect and Professionalism

Treat all interactions with CPS with respect and professionalism. This goes a long way in maintaining a positive relationship with the agency.

Keeping Good Records

Keeping detailed records of all interactions with CPS can be highly beneficial. Document everything—from phone calls to meetings—and keep all written correspondence. This can help protect your rights and ensure the accuracy of information.


Dealing with Child Protective Services can be intimidating, but you can navigate this challenging situation by avoiding common mistakes and following the best practices outlined in this article. Remember, CPS is there to ensure child safety, and your cooperation and transparency are key to this process.


Q. Should you answer questions from CPS?

The decision to answer questions from Child Protective Services (CPS) can be complex. While cooperation is often important, protecting your rights is crucial. Here’s a general guide:

  • Cooperation: CPS is a governmental agency tasked with ensuring child welfare. If CPS approaches you, they’re typically conducting an investigation based on a report they’ve received. Cooperating with their inquiries can demonstrate your commitment to your child’s welfare and can potentially expedite the process.
  • Legal Counsel: However, it’s also essential to protect your rights. Some questions may unintentionally incriminate you or be misinterpreted. Having legal counsel present during these interactions can be invaluable. A family law attorney can provide advice on how to answer questions, ensure your rights are protected, and advocate on your behalf.
  • Balance: Striking a balance between cooperation and protecting your rights is key. Be polite and professional with CPS workers but consult with an attorney before answering questions that could potentially be damaging.

Q. Why is it crucial to take CPS investigations seriously?

Taking CPS investigations seriously ensures you’re giving the situation the attention it deserves, which can ultimately protect your parental rights.

Q. Can CPS use your past against you?

Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of children. As part of their investigation, they may consider your past behavior and history, especially if they are relevant to the current allegations of child neglect or abuse.

Here are a few ways in which your past could potentially factor into a CPS investigation:

  • Prior Incidents: If you have a history of previous CPS investigations or substantiated claims of child abuse or neglect, CPS may consider this history when assessing the current allegations.
  • Criminal Record: If you have a criminal record, particularly for crimes related to violence, substance abuse, or child endangerment, CPS could consider this in their evaluation of the child’s safety in your care.
  • Substance Abuse History: A past history of substance abuse could be relevant, especially if there are current allegations or evidence of ongoing substance misuse that could endanger the child.
  • Treatment Records: If you have previously been treated for mental health issues or any conditions that could affect your ability to care for your child safely, CPS may consider these records as part of their investigation.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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