Sadly, it's not uncommon for children to be removed from their homes. If it happens to you, do you know what to do to protect your rights as a parent, to keep your children safe while they're away from you and how to get them back home?
The Ultra-Parent: The State
Every state, and practically every city or county, has an agency or office in charge of protecting children in the state. The names may vary, but in your state it may be called the the department of health and human services (HHS) or child protective services (CPS). These agencies step in when its believed children are being abused or neglected, or their health or safety is somehow jeopardized.
These agencies have the power to remove children from their parents' homes and away from the danger.
No Parent's Immune
Everyday, ordinary parents like you and celebrity-parents alike can have their children taken away from them. Take Charlie Sheen, for example. In 2011, the actor was connected, allegedly, to incidents involving alcohol and drug abuse and prostitution. On top of that (again, allegedly), he threatened to chop off his estranged wife's head.
Either as a cumulative result from the shenanigans, or a direct result from the alleged threat, Sheen's two-year-old twin boys were removed from his home by police officers.
What Triggers Child Removal
Law enforcement and protective services typically act on reports of abuse or child endangerment. The reports may come from a parent, neighbor, teacher or a complete stranger.
If the police respond to the home after being called there, like on a domestic violence incident, they may remove the children if they notice mistreatment or neglect.
Temporary Custody Arrangements
Once your children are removed from your home, they may be taken to a relative's home, like a grandparent, or to the other parent's home in the case of separated or divorced parents. Or, the children may be placed with a foster family.
Usually, these are temporary arrangements designed to give authorities - particularly CPS - time to investigate the matter. Your children might be returned to you after a day or two. Sometimes not, though.
If the investigators find your children have been abused or neglected, or they're somehow in danger because of your behavior, one or more legal actions will take place, including a hearing:
- To determine if CPS' findings are true. If a court doesn't agree with CPS, your children will be returned to you. If more time or hearings are needed, you may be given custody in between hearings
- To determine if the children should stay with you, a relative, or a foster family, and for how long. Again, if the judge doesn't agree with CPS, the case is closed and your children are returned to you
Working with Child Protective Services
There are dozens of things you can and should do to protect your rights, the safety and well-being of children, and ultimately have your children returned home:
- Don't fight with the police or agency officials. Cooperate with the investigation. Episodes of anger or physical violence won't help your cause
- Let the authorities know immediately if you have a relative who can care for your child. Remember, the authorities will visit the relative, and conduct a background check, to make sure it's safe for your children
- Write down everything you can remember about the incident leading up to the removal. Get the names of witnesses, if any. Unfortunately, spouses and relatives sometimes file false reports in effort to gain custody of a child. Protect yourself from false claims
- Most of the time, you have the right to visit with your children. Don't miss any visitation time - it's important to your children, and it shows authorities you're a responsible and caring parent
- If legal hearings are scheduled, hire a lawyer. If you can't afford one, tell the court and the child protection agency so a lawyer can be appointed for your case
- Don't miss any court hearings. Again, this will show you're responsible and caring and want your children with you
- You may receive a set of conditions or rules to follow in order to keep their children, such as substance abuse counseling or parenting classes. Follow the rules to the letter
It's certainly not an ideal situation, but remember, removing children from their home is for their safety. Understanding that, and knowing how to protect your rights, can help keep you and your children together.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I sue someone for filing a false report with child protection services against me?
- What can I do id CPS doesn't investigate a report I filed?
- Can foster parents stop me from visiting my child?