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The Dos and Dont’s of a CPS Visit

What to do when Social Services has been called—

You and your husband were arguing the other night. Neighbors called the police. The police told you that they had to arrest one of you and he chose you. You’ve bailed out of jail, you’ve contacted an experienced Orange County domestic violence or criminal defense attorney,  you are prepared for court and then you come home and there it is out of left field- a business card left on your door from the Department of Child and Family Services with a note that you must call a social worker. You call as instructed and are told that “your social worker” needs to investigate “your case.”

Why you have a social services case

It is often bewildering as to why social services has been called in a domestic violence matter. Your kids were not touched, they weren’t even yelled at. They were, however, home. Even if they were upstairs playing video games, but knew that you and your spouse were arguing, you could be accused of child abuse or neglect. Any allegation of violence in your family (however slight) is enough to put you on social service’s radar. Once you are on their radar, they have an obligation to ensure that your children are safe.

Who is your social worker

A social worker will be assigned to your case. She is not a police officer, but statements that you make to her can be used against you. She is probably a genuinely kind person who believes that she is doing what she can to make the world a better place. She is not the enemy, but her allegiances are to your children, not to you.

What your social worker is looking for

When she is called out to your house after a domestic violence or spousal abuse incident, your social worker will conduct a routine welfare check. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. You’ve heard there may have been a bad argument at the house and you know that kids live there. What would you look for to determine if the kids that live there are safe?  She’ll ask you whether and how you discipline your children, how their daily needs are met and how you cope with difficulties. She may ask to speak to the kids themselves. She may ask to see their bedrooms or their homework. She will be looking for age appropriate toys in the home, good sanitary procedures and whether there is food on hand, among other things.

What you can do in advance

Take a few minutes to think about how you care for your children. Do you use time outs? What do you feed them? What do they do for fun? When was the last time they saw a doctor? Are they appropriately immunized? Be prepared to make your case and don’t be afraid to be a braggart- this is your chance to let someone who matters know everything that you do to care for your children. If you want to, write it down and give it to her when she arrives.

What to do when you meet with her.

Clean the house. Offer your social worker some coffee and a place to sit. Talk to her about your daily routines and show her pictures of all you together in happier times.Explain to your children that this nice lady has come to see how you live and ask them to show her their favorite toy. You may even explain that she is going to want to talk to them about mommy and daddy alone and that they should not be afraid. Above all else, reassure her. She has seen atrocities that would horrify you. Thank her for her concern, but let her know why she does not need to worry about your family.

What you should not do

I am often asked if it is wise to “lawyer up” with social workers or refuse to talk without a lawyer present. If you are charged with a particular crime, then you should not discuss the particulars of the offense. You should be polite and say something like “my lawyer has instructed me not to discuss the facts of that night”. BUT, you should make it clear that you are cooperating with a welfare check and will do anything you can to alleviate her concerns and assure her that your children are well-cared for. Answer her general questions about how they are cared for and how their needs are met. As an Orange County criminal defense lawyer who routinely represents families charged with domestic violence, spousal abuse and child abuse, the only time I’ve ever seen a routine welfare check escalate into something larger is when a family has refused to cooperate by saying they want a lawyer present for the entire welfare check. This is simply the wrong strategy to take. You should cooperate with the investigation and show her how you are a good parent. Just don’t talk about the particular facts of the situation that brought her out. If she pushes you  on it, call me immediately. Many times, however, she’s not going to ask. She’s knows that a criminal investigation may be ongoing and she’s not there to investigate that alleged crime. She’s there to ensure that your kids are safe. Your job is to make her comfortable that they are.

If you have been contacted by a social worker or are facing domestic violence, child abuse or neglect or other criminal charges, contact Orange County criminal lawyer Staycie R. Sena at 949-477-8088 today.

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