Sadly, due to bigotry and prejudice, many special needs families find themselves dealing with CPS (Child Protective Services). I have even told families not to get too stressed out by this, as your first CPS call is common for many of us with kids with special needs.
But dealing with CPS is stressful and can be scary. So our first advice is to BREATHE. You are not the first family this has happened to! Our second piece of advice is to get a lawyer, because a lawyer can give you legal advice and neither of us are West Virginia lawyers. So we are offering general information here, not legal advice.
Still, it is helpful to know about some of your rights if CPS comes to call.
First of all, Child Protective Services is just like any other law enforcement agency. No police officer or CPS worker can come into your home without your permission UNLESS they have a warrant. If you do allow CPS workers into your home, you are then giving them legal permission to gather evidence from your home. So think before letting a CPS worker into your home without a warrant. And if a CPS worker AND a police officer show up at your door, they still need a warrant to demand access to your home, and you can refuse to allow them entry unless they have a warrant.
You can also inform CPS that you will speak to them when you have contacted your lawyer and your lawyer is present. CPS can not deny you your lawyer. So you have the right – unless they have a warrant – to demand to talk with CPS when your lawyer is with you. In fact, most lawyers (not that we can give legal advice) will want you to have them with you when speaking to CPS.
Finally, in West Virginia, CPS workers are required to give you a pamphlet outlining all of your rights. The booklet is entitled “A Parent’s Guide to Working with Child Protective Services.” CPS should ask you if you have a lawyer – which is required in their guidelines, and if you indicate yes, they should then make sure you have your lawyer’s permission to speak with them – again required in CPS’s guidelines. So it is almost always in your benefit to have a lawyer, and why we are saying speak to your lawyer.
You can read the West Virginia guidelines for Child Protective Services here. We strongly encourage you to read this, even though it is long and wordy. It details your rights here in West Virginia and informs you how CPS should proceed. Knowing your rights is important.
And finally, note that the CPS guidelines in West Virginia state clearly that:
“Conversely, reports that do not constitute a reasonable cause to suspect that child abuse or neglect has or is likely to occur but describe some behavior that the reporter or the agency believes is inappropriate, may not be accepted for Family Functioning Assessment. The authority to conduct Family Functioning Assessment extends to those cases when the reported information potentially meets the definitions of child abuse or neglect.” – West Virginia Child Protective Services Policy, p. 29
In West Virginia, what constitutes child abuse and neglect is codified by law, and CPS can not investigate you for choosing to parent in ways not covered by law. So if you homeschool and comply with homeschool law, CPS can not investigate you for homeschooling. If you are obtaining medical attention for your child, but turn down a non-critical medication , CPS can not investigate your child for denying a non-critical med. If you choose to be vegan, or follow some other diet, so long as your child is developing within medical norms, CPS can not investigate you for following that diet.
The most important thing to do is know your rights, read the laws, and get a lawyer. CPS does have an important job to do, and we all know of horrible examples of child abuse when CPS somehow dropped the ball. So it is in the interest of all families to make sure CPS is following their own guidelines and investigating families where there is a real question of harm.
Again, this is not a legal website, and we are not lawyers. We can not give you legal advice. We strongly encourage anyone dealing with CPS to get a lawyer for legal advice as soon as possible.