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I want help and information on dealing with Child Protective Services.

Child Protective Services (CPS)

This guide explores options for families working with Child Protective Services (CPS).

Guide Overview

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

This guide provides information, a form, and more to help you deal with Child Protective Services.

Note: Because of the serious nature CPS cases, it may be better to speak with a child-welfare attorney. Contact the Texas Legal Services Center Family Helpline for free legal education regarding CPS. 

Common questions about Child Abuse

CPS is an acronym for Child Protective Services. In Texas, Child Protective Services is a branch of the Department of Family and Protective Services or DFPS. DFPS is sometimes called the Department. DFPS is a state agency that oversees five different programs including Adult Protective Services, Child Protective Services, Child Care Licensing, Statewide Intake, and Prevention and Early Intervention throughout the state of Texas. DFPS is tasked with investigating reports of abuse or neglect of children, providing services to children and families, assisting children in foster care transition to adulthood, and finding suitable adoption placements for children in foster care. This toolkit is intended to be a guide and provide insight as to how DFPS works and how you can successfully work with DFPS. Any specific questions or concerns regarding your involvement with the Department of Family and Protective Services and/or Child Protective Services should be discussed with an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Texas. If you have further questions, you can call the Family Helpline at 844-888-6565 for free legal information and education regarding DFPS issues.


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.  

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:
    • 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. 
  • 3. RULED OUT
    • Unable to Complete is assigned as the outcome if the Caseworker was unable to complete the investigation. 

A plan of service is a voluntary agreement between a parent or caregiver, and DFPS. According to the DFPS handbook, a written plan of service should be developed within 21 days after the FBSS case has been opened.  The plan of service should detail, among other things, why DFPS is involved, what tasks must be completed, how the requested action will help alleviate concerns of abuse or neglect, how to complete the requested actions, and how your progress will be evaluated.  Once completed, the caseworker will ask the parent or caregiver to sign the agreement and provide you with a copy of the plan.  A parent may refuse to sign the plan of service; however, this may result in the child being removed by DFPS. Texas law requires that the plan be reviewed when significant changes occur and at least every six months.  However, DFPS regulations require the assigned caseworker and supervisor review the plan of service at least one time every month.  

1. Removal without a court order:

DFPS can remove a child without a court order in some emergency circumstances.  If DFPS removes a child from a parent or legal guardian without a court order, DFPS must file a SAPCR, request that the court appoint an attorney ad litem for the child, and request an initial hearing no later than the next business day after the emergency removal.  DFPS may have the hearing without the parents present, which is called an ex parte hearing.

2. Removal with a court order:

DFPS can request that a court sign an order to remove a child from the parents in an ex parte hearing without the parents present.  If DFPS obtains an order authorizing the emergency removal of a child, DFPS may remove the child from the parents after obtaining the order.

Conservatorship is the legal term for custody. To obtain a conservatorship order, a person or DFPS must file a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship or SAPCR.  If DFPS asks for a legal removal of a child, that means they will be asking a court to name DFPS the Temporary Managing Conservator of a child. Generally, a managing conservator has the right to decide where and with whom a child will live. Before DFPS asks a court to be named the Temporary Managing Conservator of a child, the DFPS caseworker and supervisor should discuss the legal necessity of removing the child with an attorney who represents DFPS. If DFPS seeks a formal legal removal from a parent and a parent cannot afford to hire an attorney, the parent may be entitled to court appointed legal representation.  Temporary Managing Conservatorship in the context of the CPS process means that DFPS will temporarily take custody of your child. DFPS may request the right, to make both educational and medical decisions for your child. DFPS will also ask that as a requirement of the child being returned to your custody, you be court ordered to complete a plan of service.

You must meet all 3 requirements for a court to appoint you a free lawyer:

  • Indigency. You must be “indigent” – this means that you have a low income and cannot afford to pay for a lawyer yourself.
  • LawsuitCPS must have filed a lawsuit in court asking to be appointed the temporary managing conservator of your child or for your parental rights to be terminated.
  • Oppose the Petition. You must “respond in opposition” to the suit – this means you must go to court and show that you are going to fight the CPS petition.

Texas law is not specific about how much income you have to have to be considered indigent. Most courts give you a form to fill out where you will write down how much money you make each month and what your monthly expenses are like rent, utilities, daycare, and gas. You should fill out the form if you think there is any chance you might be able to have a free lawyer. One easy test, for example, is whether you get any other government benefits, like SNAP/food assistance. There is no penalty for filling out the form even if you do not end up receiving a court-appointed lawyer.

For parents who are under 18 years old, you are also entitled to a lawyer. You should make sure to ASK the court for a lawyer if one is not immediately appointed to your case. Your ability to pay for a lawyer will be based on your income, not that of your parents. For more information relevant to teenage parents, See page 110

Instructions & Forms

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

Checklist Steps

You can take the following steps to properly consider the guide's resources and your overall legal issue. 

  • Step A: Write Down Your Facts
    • If you haven't already done it, it is a good idea to write out exactly what you say happened in your situation.
      • Make sure to include dates and notes of any proof you may have.
  • Step B: Define Your Problem
    • Think about the problem you are facing, and try to answer the questions below:
      • What person and/or organization do you think is either at fault or is on the opposite side of your case?
      • What directly caused the situation you are dealing with?
      • If you were able to solve your issue, in the future, what would be your ideal outcome? What would you be willing to accept?
    • Try to exactly write out the exact problem you are trying to solve. This should be no more than a paragraph in length.
  • Step C: Keep In Mind
    • As you review the contents of the guide, make sure to keep your facts and your problem in mind. 

A good place to start is to review the Frequently Asked Questions, Articles, and any forms that may be available. Please note, not every guide will have a form. 

  • Frequently Asked Questions are "bite-sized" answers to specific questions visitors to TexasLawHelp may have.
  • Articles are more comprehensive guides on a specific legal subject.
  • Forms are documents you may be able to use to go to court.
    • WARNING: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.  It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your particular situation

If you need other help, use the Legal Help Directory Directory to look for a lawyer, free legal aid program or self-help center in your area.

WARNING: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.  It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your particular situation

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