Child Protective Services
In cases of alleged child abuse or neglect, the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) may remove the child, as well as any minor siblings, from the home. Child Protective Services (CPS), an agency of DSHS, handles these investigations and manages children’s cases. A CPS investigation, and any judicial proceedings by the state to modify or terminate parental rights, is civil rather than criminal in nature. It may occur alongside a criminal case for alleged child abuse, so it is important for defendants to seek the help of an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney to understand how a CPS case may affect their rights.
CPS Reports, Investigations, and Dependency Proceedings
Any individual who has a reason for concern about a child’s health or safety, such as the child’s other parent, a teacher, a friend of the child, or a friend’s parent, may make a report to CPS. CPS will investigate the allegations to determine if the case merits further services. If CPS concludes that the child’s health or safety is in danger, it can file a dependency petition. This is a civil proceeding in which a court decides whether or not the child should be removed from one or both parents’ care, or the care of a stepparent or guardian.
The CPS caseworker must present evidence to the court at a dependency hearing, where both parents may present their own evidence. If the court concludes that the circumstances merit removal of the child, the court will order placement of the child with a relative or a foster home, establish a visitation schedule for the parents, and order one or both parents to complete certain services.
The court may return the child to one or both parents’ care later, if CPS reports favorably, or CPS may recommend permanent modification or termination of parental rights. In that case, the parents have the right to a civil trial on the merits of the state’s claims.
Limited Immunity from Civil or Criminal Liability
Washington law provides that any person who participates in a CPS investigation will be immune from criminal or civil liability for any truthful, good-faith reports made to CPS or testimony given during a dependency hearing. Immunity is limited to these two situations.
Restrictions on Child Visitation
If a court orders removal of a child or children, it will set up a visitation schedule for the parents. This schedule is subject to any protective or restraining orders issued in a criminal case alleging child abuse or domestic violence. Visitation may be supervised by a CPS worker.
Treatment for Alleged Offenders
Depending on the circumstances of the alleged child abuse or neglect, the court will order the parents to complete various services. This could include drug or alcohol intervention, addiction treatment, counseling, or anger management. A CPS caseworker monitors the parents’ progress in these services.
Penalties for False Reports
Parties to a divorce or child custody dispute may falsely report alleged abuse or domestic violence against their spouse or other parent. Washington law provides that DSHS will issue a warning to someone who makes one false report to CPS. A second false report may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to ninety days in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
A Washington criminal defense lawyer with knowledge of Washington’s criminal legal system can assist you in a case involving allegations of child abuse or neglect. Timothy L. Healy has over fifteen years’ experience representing defendants in criminal cases throughout Washington state, including Tacoma and Pierce County. Contact us today online or at (888) 312-3093 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.