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What is Child Protective Services?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Child Protective Services is a government agency in the US that is established and organized at a state level. Some states have similar organizations that exist under different names, such as the Department of Social Services or the Department of Children & Family Services. Regardless of the name of the organization, these agencies are responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of children, often through the removal of children from environments of abuse or neglect and placing them in foster homes. Child Protective Services in many states have been the target of criticism, often due to overzealousness in removing children from their families or due to placing children in unfit foster care.

While there is no federal agency in the US that directly handles child protection, there are federal regulations that require each state to establish and maintain an agency such as Child Protective Services. The primary responsibility for this agency is to oversee and ensure the safety and health of children throughout the state in which the agency operates. This can be done in a number of ways, but often begins with a complaint or report being filed with Child Protective Services by someone concerned about the well-being of a child.

Many states have mandatory reporting laws that require any adult, especially one in a position of authority, who has a reasonable suspicion that a child is being abused or neglected to report that suspicion. This typically results in an investigation of the situation by an agent of Child Protective Services. The investigation may involve interaction with the child, talking to the parents or guardians of the child, and a thorough examination of the child’s living conditions. If the Child Protective Services agent deems the child’s environment to be abusive or neglectful, then he or she can obtain a court order to have the child removed from the environment and placed into foster care.

There has been some criticism of Child Protective Services in many states for a number of reasons. Some detractors claim that agents are often too quick to remove a child from his or her parents, and that the agencies often view families and parents as enemies. There have also been an unfortunate number of situations in which foster parents abuse the children placed into their care. Critics of Child Protective Services argue that agents too often fail to properly vet potential foster parents, and sometimes place children with individuals who have criminal records for abuse or sexual assault.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon948278 — On Apr 29, 2014

I say get rid of CPS and let trained police investigators do their job. CPS is riddled with employees who have their own issues. At least make CPS workers get a psychological evaluation as part of their employment and regularly in order to stay employed. Subject them to what they put parents through; make them accountable and transparent. Open up 'closed courts' and secrecy, which is not to protect the child but unethical CPS workers, inadequate attorneys, and court judges (who make a lot of assumptions solely on the CPS workers’ recommendations).

In my area it is (from the words of my attorney) all about favors, and I am not one to bow down and do a thousand Hail Marys.

By anon948274 — On Apr 29, 2014

I never left my children alone, ever! When I opened up the first custody/child support request, he abducted the twins. When I opened up another one, he told them they could tell the judge where they want to live once they turned 14. He also told them that he was going to win a large settlement, where each child would get $50,000. (He had told the babysitter that too).

Within one month, my daughter attempted suicide and my son threatened to run away. My son, by the way, is an IEP student, and diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. He was never on meds before. Now he is and has been moved to three different group homes. The one he was at near our home was a four-month stay in preparation for his testimony in court. Since he has lived there, he has 20 scars up his arm and recently cut three seven-inch long and deep cuts in the same arm. The presumption now? That he can't deal with something so painful that he prefers to cut. I believe that part, but now the 'theory' is that he has been sexually assaulted!

His twin sister? She nearly died at 1:30 a.m. when the truck she was in rolled over twice. Had she not been reclined she would have been killed. She was unable to even reach the babysitter or her husband. But, the babysitter worked as a dispatcher, so the police are familiar with the case, and I presume knocked on their door. The driver? Another teen. There was no adult present, at all. The court appointed attorney? A 72 year old deaf man who is a criminal lawyer! He did not do a thing to represent me.

The Iron Triangle is real. The social worker skewed everything! What showed up on the disposition papers sounded like a copy and paste job out of the mouth of the social worker. The babysitter now has sole custody of my daughter, while her brother is bounced around. There aren't any programs in Christian County (which has housed the 101st Airborne Division since 1944). I was told, “You need to find yourself” by the social worker's boss after the court hearing. Heck, I am a retired vet, followed by 8 1/2 years as a truck driver (that ended after a roll-over for obvious reasons) and the VA is paying me to return to college.

I'm telling you anger, sorrow, shock, horror, disbelief, grief are all 'labeled' and given a diagnosis that is usually done under duress (as in my case), and will be used against you. In other circles I am fine, an empowered woman; however, after a year of brow beating, lies, deceit, while they make plans the whole time and set up their case to do so, I feel completely defeated and powerless against a system that does not honor or sanctify the family unit.

Just think what all the federal funding could do if they were used to facilitate programs that do empower and heal the family? If you know of a good attorney, willing to take on the entire state of Kentucky (low grade on integrity, child counsel, ranking third in teen suicide) then let me know. No more legal aid is being afforded to appeal. Maybe the judge will? I don’t know.

By anon357869 — On Dec 07, 2013

I have seen numerous reports that show that a child in foster care is much more likely to die than a child living at home is. The reports indicate between six and 10 times more likely, not to mention all of those who suffer neglect and abuse.

Then there are the majority of children placed in foster care who will end up in jail or homeless as a result of having had these so called child protection experts pass judgment on their parents and decide that they are a failure as a parent. All it takes is a short course and you are an expert on children, forget the fact that you have never had any of your own, which most of them haven't.

The average age of children who die in foster care is four years and under. I know because my little boy was two years old when he was left by his foster carer for six hours with a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, even though I rang the house twice asking them to check on him, the first time because the foster carer told me he had just banged his head and gone to bed.

When child protection come into your life, most of the time you will have no support, and they don't offer you any information or assistance.

Because of this I started "Luke's Army", named after my son Luke. It is now the biggest support group in the world for people who are dealing with child protection authorities.

By dinodefense — On Feb 22, 2013

I am a former CPS investigator. Call me, your defense attorney, before CPS asks you a single question. You have the absolute right to tell them to leave and call an attorney.

By anon317025 — On Jan 31, 2013

@manykitties2: Is running to Big Daddy Government the only thing you could think of doing? How about offering to babysit for your neighbor?

It is time we started acting like people caring about people again in this country, and stopped running to big daddy government to do everything for us.

By live2shop — On Sep 27, 2011

It's true that the social service agencies do not have enough foster homes. But I think that there ought to be more thorough investigation of applications for foster homes to ensure that they will be good places for kids to be placed.

There are a lot of excellent foster parents. Some are not necessarily criminal or unfit, but there are some that do not treat the kids as they should. A relative of mine was placed in a foster home where the kids were required to do a lot of the farm work.

They were fed and clothed, but not treated in a loving and compassionate way. Apparently, the parents just needed some extra help on the farm.

By BoniJ — On Sep 26, 2011

For the most part, I think that child protective services does the best job that they can. The service often lacks sufficient money and social workers to help all the kids that need protection.

I think every case reported should be investigated. But case workers need to remember that every report doesn't mean children must be removed from the home. Sometimes it's a misunderstanding, or a relative or friend is being spiteful when making a report.

A case worker needs to investigate all the circumstances thoroughly. If the social worker has all the information and follows the guidelines, she/he will usually make the right decision.

I've heard stories about kids being taken away from their parents when there is no abuse, maybe just a little different style of home life. It can be very traumatic for children to be taken from parents who love and care for them.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 26, 2011

Undoubtedly, Child Protective Services has set many children free from a dark and terrible existence. However, there are also situations in which individuals use the agency to their benefit when no abuse is occurring.

I have a friend who used to be a handful when she was a teenager. She had lots of issues, and she even attempted suicide. She had the best parents, but she decided that she wanted out of their home. So, she called Child Protective Services herself.

She told them that her parents beat her on a regular basis. She even cried for effect. Her poor parents were totally shocked when an agent showed up at their door to investigate the situation.

The agent determined that theirs was a loving home and my friend had lied. She apologized and told her parents that they have to investigate every case.

By wavy58 — On Sep 25, 2011

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a child is being abused. Usually, the parents keep it secret and abuse them inside the house to avoid being seen or heard.

However, sometimes the heat of the argument becomes loud enough for those nearby to hear. I was riding down my street on a bicycle the other day, and I heard a child screaming. I could hear what sounded like slapping, only harder.

I knew the names of the people at that address, so I called Child Protective Services. When I told them what I’d heard, they sent someone out right away.

Later that day, I saw the agent leaving with the child. The mother stood on the front porch and yelled obscenities at the agent. I was so glad the child wouldn’t have to endure that kind of treatment anymore.

By KaBoom — On Sep 24, 2011

@indemnifyme - I'm sorry your friend had an uncomfortable experience. But I would rather have every single complaint made to child protective services investigated than have even one child stay in an abusive home.

What would happen is CPS stopped taking complaints seriously? I think a lot of children would stay in abusive homes when they could have been removed.

By indemnifyme — On Sep 24, 2011

I think child protective services are definitely overzealous sometimes. A friend of mine is kind of "earthy-crunchy" hippy mom, and she lives in a pretty podunk area.

A former friend of her reported her to child protective services for abuse just to be spiteful. My friend is a great mom and there was absolutely no abuse going on.

However, my friend had to endure several invasive visits from a child protective services agent. The agent treated her really poorly -- like she was definitely an abuser, when she wasn't. The agent was also suspicious of some of her natural health practices, like not feeding the child processed foods, if you can believe that! She also didn't approve of the practice of co-sleeping (my friend had the baby sleep in bed with her to make breast feeding easier.)

Everything ended well, CPS did eventually say she was a fit mother. It was still an uncomfortable experience and should never have happened. I think CPS should really investigate the complaints a little bit better before acting on them.

By lonelygod — On Sep 24, 2011

I have been considering child protective services jobs in my area as I recently finished up a degree in social work. I really feel that CPS does a great job of keeping children out of dangerous situations and helps to place them in homes where they can be adequately cared for.

I know there are a lot of stories about the horrors of foster care, but one of my best friends was a foster child and he loved his family. Perhaps he was one of the lucky ones, but considering the often abusive alternatives, I think foster care is needed.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 23, 2011

My neighbor had the terrible habit of leaving her young boys at home alone while she went out shopping. They were only four and six years old, far too young to be left at home. I ended up calling child protective services Michigan after I saw one of the boys answering the door to a total stranger.

I still can't believe that a mother would be so irresponsible to leave such small children by themselves, especially not for an entire afternoon. What if the person who rang the doorbell had been a pedophile? Who knows what would have happened?

I really think more neighbors should be reporting delinquent parents.

By suntan12 — On Sep 23, 2011

@GreenWeaver - Some kids get placed in foster homes by child protective services and sometimes the agency loses paperwork or misfiles information. There was a case in which a child that had a lot of emotional issues because of sexual abuse also developed violent tendencies and that information was not given to the foster parents.

I realize that some foster parents might not want to have a child like this in their home, but child protective services should not withhold the information because if the foster parent does decide that the child is too violent, the child will get rejected again and they will feel even worse.

I also feel that many of these agencies take too long to investigate child abuse claims which always makes me question the agency’s effectiveness overall.

By GreenWeaver — On Sep 22, 2011

I think that people that work in child protection services have the children’s best interest at heart. The problem is that there are probably more cases of child abuse out there than there are people able to investigate these claims.

I think that unfortunately this is the reason why some children fall through the cracks and we hear really unfortunate information about kids being abused or even killed by their parents. There was a highly publicized case here in Florida that involved foster parents that were so abusive to one child in particular that it resulted in her death.

It is really sad when things like this happen because children are really at the mercy of their parents and unfortunately some kids get dealt a bad hand.

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