Child Protective Services (CPS) is the name of a governmental agency in many states of the United States that responds to reports of child abuse or neglect. Some states use other names, often attempting to reflect more family-centered (as opposed to child-centered) practices, such as "Department of Children & Family Services" (DCFS). CPS is also known by the name of "Department of Social Services" (DSS) or simply "Social Services."
Laws and standards
U.S. federal laws that govern CPS agencies include:
- Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
- Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
- Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA)
- Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)
- 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, and depending on the circumstances 1985.
In 1655, in what is now the United States, there were criminal court cases involving child abuse. In 1692, states and municipalities identified care for abused and neglected children as the responsibility of local government and private institutions. In 1696, The Kingdom of England first used the legal principle of parens patriae, which gave the royal crown care of "charities, infants, idiots, and lunatics returned to the chancery." This principal of parens patriae has been identified as the statutory basis for U.S. governmental intervention in families' child rearing practices.
In 1825, states enacted laws giving social-welfare agencies the right to remove neglected children from their parents and from the streets. These children were placed in almshouses, in orphanages and with other families. In 1835, the Humane Society founded the National Federation of Child Rescue agencies to investigate child maltreatment. In the late-19th century, private child protection agencies – modeled after existing animal protection organizations – developed to investigate reports of child maltreatment, present cases in court and advocate for child welfare legislation.
In 1912, the federal Children's Bureau was established to manage federal child welfare efforts, including services related to child maltreatment. In 1958, amendments to the Social Security Act mandated that states fund child protection efforts. In 1962, professional and media interest in child maltreatment was sparked by the publication of C. Henry Kempe and associates' "The battered child syndrome" in JAMA. By the mid-1960s, in response to public concern that resulted from this article, 49 U.S. states passed child-abuse reporting laws. In 1974, these efforts by the states culminated in the passage of the federal "Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act" (CAPTA; Public Law 93-247) providing federal funding for wide-ranging federal and state child-maltreatment research and services. In 1980, Congress passed the first comprehensive federal child protective services act, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-272), which focused on state economic incentives to substantially decrease the length and number of foster care placements.
Partly funded by the federal government, Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies were first established in response to the 1974 CAPTA which mandated that all states establish procedures to investigate suspected incidents of child maltreatment.
Standards for Reporting
Generally speaking, a report must be made when an individual knows or has reasonable cause to believe or suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect. These standards guide mandatory reporters in deciding whether to make a report to child protective services.
Persons Responsible for the Child
In addition to defining acts or omissions that constitute child abuse or neglect, several states' statutes provide specific definitions of persons who can get reported to child protective services as perpetrators of abuse or neglect. These are persons who have some relationship or regular responsibility for the child. This generally includes parents, guardians, foster parents, relatives, or legal guardians. Once taken away from home, the stated goal of CPS is to reunite the child with their family. In some cases, due to the nature of abuse children are not able to see or converse with the abusers. If parents fail to complete Court Ordered terms and conditions, the children in care may never return home.
Child Protective Services Statistics
On September 30, 2010, there were approximately 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. of which 36% percent were ages 5 and under. During that same period, almost 120,000 birth to five year-olds entered foster care and a little under 100,000 exited foster care. U.S. Child Protective Services (CPS) received a little over 2.5 million reports of child maltreatment in 2009 of which 61.9% were assigned to an investigation. Research using national data on recidivism indicates that 22% of children were rereported within a 2-year period and that 7% of these rereports were substantiated.
Child Protective Services Recidivism in the United States
In order to understand CPS recidivism in the U.S., there are several terms that readers must familiarize themselves with. Two often-used terms in CPS recidivism are rereport (also known as rereferral) and recurrence. Either of the two can occur after an initial report of child abuse or neglect called an index report. Although the definition of rereport and recurrence is not consistent, the general difference is that a rereport is a subsequent report of child abuse or neglect after an initial report (also known as an index report) whereas recurrence refers to a confirmed (also known as substantiated) rereport after an initial report of child abuse and neglect. Borrowing from the definition used by Pecora et al. (2000), recidivism is defined as, “Recurring child abuse and neglect, the subsequent or repeated maltreatment of a child after identification to public authorities.” It is important to highlight that this definition is not all-inclusive because it does not include abused children who are not reported to authorities.
There are three main sources of recidivism data in the U.S.—the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), and the National Incidence Study (NIS)—and they all have their own respective strengths and weaknesses. NCANDS was established in 1974, and it consists of administrative data of all reports of suspected child abuse and neglect investigated by CPS. NSCAW was established in 1996 and is similar to NCANDS in that it only includes reports of child abuse and neglect investigated by CPS, but it adds clinical measures related to child and family well-being that NCANDS is lacking. NIS was established in 1974, and it consists of data collected from CPS as well. However, it attempts to gather a more comprehensive picture of the incidence of child abuse and neglect by collecting data from other reporting sources called community sentinels.
Brenda Scott, in her 1994 book Out of Control: Who's Watching Our Child Protection Agencies, criticizes CPS, stating, "Child Protective Services is out of control. The system, as it operates today, should be scrapped. If children are to be protected in their homes and in the system, radical new guidelines must be adopted. At the core of the problem is the antifamily mindset of CPS. Removal is the first resort, not the last. With insufficient checks and balances, the system that was designed to protect children has become the greatest perpetrator of harm."
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had itself been an object of reports of unusual numbers of poisonings, death, rapes and pregnancies of children under its care since 2004. The Texas Family and Protective Services Crisis Management Team was created by executive order after the critical report Forgotten Children of 2004.
Texas Child Protective Services was hit with a rare if not unprecedented legal sanction for a "groundless cause of action" and ordered to pay $32,000 of the Spring family's attorney fees. Judge Schneider wrote in a 13-page order, "The offensive conduct by (CPS) has significantly interfered with the legitimate exercise of the traditional core functions of this court."
- Unfair judgement of families, especially those most unable to defend themselves. Without compassion, unreasonable and impossible demands that separate families and cause stress are made of parents.
- Local governments accustomed to resulting flow of taxpayer dollars to balance growing budgets routinely ignore charges against Child Protective Services. Funding continues as long as children are out of their home, adoption bonuses are also available, but no incentive remains to return children home.
- On top of $4000–$6000 per child is a multiplying factor based on the percentage that a state exceeds its baseline adoption goal.
- Bonuses and incentives cause employees to work diligently to exploit children for government money while parents are charged for the cost of their care. Fraud, fabrication, withholding, and destroying of evidence, unnecessary termination of parental rights, and double dipping are common while confidentiality clause is used to protect the beneficiaries.
- Beneficiaries include state employees, lawyers, court investigators, guardian ad litems, court personnel, judges, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, caseworkers, therapists, foster parents, adoptive parents, and others. Incentives to put children on more drugs per day involve additional funds and Medicaid.
- Parents are sometimes pressured by CPS agents to divorce their spouse in order to see their children again. Parental cooperation is often interpreted as guilt, and parents separated from their children are treated as criminals often without access to visit or even see their children.
- Child protective services is a wasteful bureaucracy with no clear leader and unclear policies. State legislators are generally powerless to correct the federally mandated system.
- Tragedies happen where children die in CPS custody due to neglect or abuse while parents are trying hard to regain custody of their children. Such tragedies should never happen.
- While CPS claims relatives are contacted, there are very many cases that proves false, where grandparents and other relatives attempt to get custody and are denied. Parents and grandparents lose all connections to their heirs while children lose their heritage.
- The California Little Hoover Commission Report in 2003 reported that 30% to 70% of the children in California group homes neither belong there nor should have been removed from their own homes.
- Children are in far greater danger in CPS custody today than in imperfect homes. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reported in 1998 that six times as many children died in foster care than in the general public. Children removed to official “safety” are far more likely to suffer sexual molestation and other abuse than in the general population.
In May 2007, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found in Rogers v. County of San Joaquin, No. 05-16071 that a CPS social worker who removed children from their natural parents into foster care without obtaining judicial authorization was acting without due process and without exigency (emergency conditions) violated the 14th Amendment and Title 42 United State Code Section 1983. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that a state may not make a law that abridges "... the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" and no state may "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Title 42 United States Code Section 1983 states that citizens can sue in federal courts any person who acting under a color of law to deprive the citizens of their civil rights under the pretext of a regulation of a state, See.
In case of Santosky v. Kramer, 455 US 745, Supreme Court reviewed a case when Department of Social Services removed two younger children from their natural parents only because the parents had been previously found negligent toward their oldest daughter. When the third child was only three days old, DSS transferred him to a foster home on the ground that immediate removal was necessary to avoid imminent danger to his life or health. The Supreme Court vacated previous judgment and stated: "Before a State may sever completely and irrevocably the rights of parents in their natural child, due process requires that the State support its allegations by at least clear and convincing evidence. But until the State proves parental unfitness, the child and his parents share a vital interest in preventing erroneous termination of their natural relationship".
A District of Columbia Court of Appeals concluded that the lower trial court erred in rejecting the relative custodial arrangement selected by the natural mother who tried to preserve her relationship with the child. The previous judgment granting the foster mother's adoption petition was reversed, the case remanded to the trial court to vacate the orders granting adoption and denying custody, and to enter an order granting custody to the child's relative.
In 2010 an ex-foster child was awarded $30 million by jury trial in California (Santa Clara County) for sexual abuse damages that happened to him in foster home from 1995 to 1999. The foster parent, John Jackson, was licensed by state despite the fact that he abused his own wife and son, overdosed on drugs and was arrested for drunken driving. In 2006, Jackson was convicted in Santa Clara County of nine counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child by force, violence, duress, menace and fear and seven counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. The sex acts he forced the children in his foster care to perform sent him to prison for 220 years. Later in 2010, Giarretto Institute, the private foster family agency responsible for licensing and monitoring Jackson's foster home and others, also was found to be negligent and liable for 75 percent of the abuse that was inflicted on the victim, and Jackson was liable for the rest.
In 2009 Oregon Department of Human Services has agreed to pay $2 million into a fund for the future care of twins who were allegedly abused by their foster parents; it was the largest such settlement in the agency's history. According to the civil rights suit filed on request of twins' adoptive mother in December 2007 in U.S. Federal Court, kids were kept in makeshift cages—cribs covered with chicken wire secured by duct tape—in a darkened bedroom known as "the dungeon." The brother and sister often went without food, water or human touch. The boy, who had a shunt put into his head at birth to drain fluid, didn't receive medical attention, so when police rescued the twins he was nearly comatose. The same foster family previously took in their care hundreds of other children over nearly four decades. DHS said the foster parents deceived child welfare workers during the checkup visits.
Several lawsuits were brought in 2008 against the Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF), accusing it of mishandling reports that Thomas Ferrara, 79, a foster parent, was molesting girls. The suits claimed that though there were records of sexual misconduct allegations against Ferrara in 1992, 1996, and 1999, the DCF continued to place foster children with Ferrara and his then-wife until 2000. Ferrara was arrested in 2001 after a 9-year-old girl told detectives he regularly molested her over two years and threatened to hurt her mother if she told anyone. Records show that Ferrara had as many as 400 children go through his home during his 16 years as a licensed foster parent from 1984 to 2000. Officials stated that the lawsuits over Ferrara end up costing the DCF almost $2.26 million. Similarly, in 2007 Florida's DCF paid $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged DCF ignored complaints that another mentally challenged Immokalee girl was being raped by her foster father, Bonifacio Velazquez, until the 15-year-old gave birth to a child.
In a class action lawsuit Charlie and Nadine H. v. McGreevey was filed in federal court by "Children’s Rights" New York organization on behalf of children in the custody of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The complaint alleged violations of the children's constitutional rights and their rights under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, Early Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment, 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA). In July 2002, the federal court granted plaintiffs’ experts access to 500 children’s case files, allowing plaintiffs to collect information concerning harm to children in foster care through a case record review. These files revealed numerous cases in which foster children were abused, and DYFS failed to take proper action. On June 9, 2004, the child welfare panel appointed by the parties approved the NJ State’s Reform Plan. The court accepted the plan on June 17, 2004. The same organization filed similar lawsuits against other states in recent years that caused some of the states to start child welfare reforms.
In 2007 Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick obtained a jury verdict against Orange County (California) and two of its social workers for violating her Fourteenth Amendment rights to familial association. The $4.9 million verdict grew to a $9.5 million judgment as the County lost each of its successive appeals. The case finally ended in 2011 when the United States Supreme Court denied Orange County's request to overturn the verdict.[3