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Child Protective Services Article 2 of 7: Investigation Phase

Child Protective Services (CPS)

 

This article provides information on the investigation phase when dealing with Child Protective Services. This article was written by Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and theFamily Helpline at Texas Legal Services Center.

 

Introduction

If an investigation is opened, a caseworker will likely visit with both the parent and the child. This caseworker is usually an investigator and will ask a parent questions related to the report that was made. The caseworker may ask to inspect the child’s home. The caseworker may also ask for a list of individuals who regularly visit the child’s home and complete a criminal and DFPS background check on all residents of the home. A parent may undergo a thorough or abbreviated investigation.

You have a right to hire a lawyer to represent you in any interaction with CPS or Child Protective Investigations. 

A. Thorough Investigations

During a thorough investigation by the Department, a parent can expect the caseworker to interview all alleged victims, parents, and perpetrators, conduct a home visit, and gather relevant documentation. The caseworker may complete a risk assessment and might ask a parent and additional caregivers to engage in a safety plan.

Step 1: Interviewing the Child

As a part of the investigation, the caseworker will likely ask to interview the children. If and when the caseworker visits with the children, they may visit them at school or outside of the parent’s presence. A parent may refuse to allow the caseworker to interview your child outside of your presence. However, if you do not give the caseworker permission to interview your child, the Department may ask a judge for a court order allowing them to do so. When the interview takes place it will likely be recorded in either video or audio format.

Step 2: Interview with Parents or Conservators

The investigator will make contact with the parents of the alleged victim. Participation in the interview is voluntary. Should a parent choose to participate, a parent is not entitled to court appointed legal representation (though a parent can hire a private attorney). The investigator will record the interview which may be used during later stages of the DFPS process including formal removal of the child, during a law enforcement investigation, and in private custody proceedings. If a parent or conservator faces potential criminal charges, the parent or conservator should consult an attorney to discuss how an interview could affect a criminal case.

Step 3: Interview with the Alleged Perpetrator

The investigator will ask the person who is accused of committing the abuse or neglect against the child to be interviewed. Again, participation in this interview is voluntary and an alleged perpetrator is not entitled to court appointed legal representation at this phase of the DFPS process (though they can hire a private attorney). Any and all information collected by the investigator may be used by the Department during later phases of the DFPS process, in a law enforcement investigation, and in a private custody proceeding.

If an alleged perpetrator faces potential criminal charges, the alleged perpetrator should consult an attorney to discuss how the interview may affect a criminal case.

Step 4: Interview with Other Family Members

The investigator will ask for a list of frequent visitors and caregivers for the child. He or she may also ask for a list of other individuals who reside in the home. At the very least, the caseworker will conduct a criminal background check on these individuals and may request to interview them. Again, participation in this interview is voluntary and anyone being interviewed is not entitled to court appointed legal representation at this phase of the DFPS process (though they can hire a private attorney). Any and all information collected by the investigator may be used by the Department at later phases of the DFPS process.

Step 5: Gather Information and Documentation

A parent may be asked to provide the caseworker with certain documentation including but not limited to immunization records, medical records, or school records. If a parent is not able to provide these documents to the caseworker, the caseworker may ask the parent to sign a “release” in order for the caseworker to access these documents. A parent is not required to sign a release unless it is ordered by a court. If a parent does sign a release, the parent should ask for a copy to keep for their records. A release is a document that gives someone permission to access information they would not otherwise be able to access. Most written release forms can be revoked or taken back but only if you notify the authorized agency and individual in writing that you have decided to revoke the release.

Step 6: Conduct Home Visit

The investigator will likely ask to see the home where the child resides. In the instance that a child is homeless the caseworker may ask to see the shelter where the child lives. The caseworker will look to make sure that the environment is safe and suitable for habitation. Again, participation in this part of the investigation process is voluntary, and you are not entitled to court appointed legal representation at this phase of the DFPS process (though a parent can hire a private attorney). Any and all information collected by the investigator may be used by the Department at later phases of the DFPS process, in a law enforcement investigation, and in a private custody dispute.

Step 7: Conduct Risk Assessment

The investigator must conduct a risk assessment and assign a finding before the investigation can be considered complete. The caseworker will complete an assessment and determine the risk level. There are three possible outcomes of a completed risk assessment.
 
  1. Risk Indicated: A Risk Indicated finding is issued when the caseworker determines that risk factors have been identified and the family is not willing or able to use family and community resources to deal with the risk factors to ensure a safe and stable environment for the child.
     
  2. Risk Controlled: A Risk Controlled finding is issued when the caseworker determines that risk factors have been identified but the family has indicated a willingness to utilize family and community resources to ensure a safe and stable environment for the child.
     
  3. No Significant Factors: A No Significant Factors finding is issued when the caseworker concludes the child is not at risk and that there are no circumstances that may create a risk for the child.
     

B. Voluntary Participation and Placement

Once DFPS becomes involved, the investigator or caseworker may ask you to voluntarily place the child or children with another individual. This is usually done with a Parent-Child Safety Placement or safety plan. If your child must be placed out of your home, placing the child with safe friends or family the child is familiar and comfortable is almost always the best option. Any person you would like to be placement for your children must be approved by DFPS. DFPS will run a criminal history and a DFPS history for any proposed placement. DFPS will also need to inspect the proposed placement’s home to make sure it is safe. The proposed placement will also need to be able to show to DFPS they can be protective of the children and follow all requirements of the voluntary placement.

If no suitable caregiver or voluntary placement is provided, the caseworker may have no other option than to place the child in foster care where he or she may stay until the safety issues are resolved.

Who should I list as a voluntary placement or caregiver?

You may list anyone that you believe will provide for the safety and well-being of your child during the length of your involvement with DFPS. DFPS will usually want to see the following list of criteria to approve a proposed caregiver for your child:
 
  1. No prior findings of abuse or neglect; 
  2. No prior involvement with DFPS;
  3. No prior criminal record;
  4. Familiar with caring for children;
  5. Has the available means and space to house the children during the duration of your involvement with DFPS.

C. Investigation Outcomes

At the conclusion of the investigation the case worker must issue one of the following findings regarding the report of abuse or neglect that was reported:
 
  • 1. REASON TO BELIEVE
    • The Reason to Believe (or RTB) disposition is assigned as the outcome of the investigation if the caseworker determines that the reported abuse or neglect did occur. 
  • 2. UNABLE TO DETERMINE
    • The Unable to Determine (or UTD) disposition is assigned as the outcome of the investigation if the caseworker determines that the reported abuse or neglect did occur but there is not enough evidence to support this determination. 
  • 3. RULED OUT
    • The Ruled Out (or RO) disposition is assigned as the outcome if the caseworker determines that the reported abuse or neglected did not occur or if the alleged perpetrator of the reported abuse or neglect is younger than 9 years of age.
  • 4. UNABLE TO COMPLETE
    • Unable to Complete is assigned as the outcome if the caseworker was unable to complete the investigation.
  • 5. ADMINISTRATIVE CLOSURE
    • Additional information obtained during the investigation results in DFPS determining the investigation is no longer warranted.

D. Conclusion of Investigation Phase

At the conclusion of the investigation, both a finding and risk assessment level should be assigned to the investigation. Once the finding and risk assessment are assigned the investigation should either be closed or transferred. The investigation phase should be completed within 45 days from the date of intake. If there is good cause, the caseworker may request a 45 day extension. If the extension is granted, the investigation must be completed no later than 90 days after the date of intake, unless a Program Director has approved an extension of the investigation beyond 90 days.

Once the investigation is completed, if the case is not closed, the case will be transferred to the Family Based Safety Services Unit or the Conservatorship Unit within the DFPS system. At the conclusion of the investigation phase, a designated perpetrator should receive written notice from DFPS regarding the findings of abuse or neglect. Each parent or person with legal responsibility for the child and the reporter of the alleged abuse or neglect shall be notified of the investigation finding, unless an exception applies. See Texas Administrative Code Section 707.499

There are administrative remedies available to appeal a DFPS investigation finding.

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