How to Prepare if you are Falsely Reported for Abuse or Neglect

October 4, 2004. I will remember that day for the rest of my life. For me, September 11, 2001 fades in comparison because October 4, 2004 was the day Child Protective Services (CPS) of Montgomery County, New York took my daughter away from me based on anonymous and false allegations. I finally got her back, but she would never have been taken in the first place if I had known more about how CPS and Family Court operated, and if I had known my rights under the law.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it can’t happen to you. Before it happened to me, I would have never thought it was possible. Although my wife and I were approaching age 50, neither of us had any experience with courts, lawyers or investigators of any kind. We had each received a couple of traffic tickets in our lives, which we dutifully pled guilty to and paid the fines. We had hired a lawyer twice for closings on house purchases. My wife had served on a jury once.

We had been married for 25 years, raised two boys who were model citizens, extremely bright and had never had any trouble with the law. We both worked. My wife graduated from community college with a 4.0 average and was a charge nurse at a local nursing home. I had an M.A. degree in English and ran my own business. We paid our taxes, went to church, helped our neighbors, voted in every election, put up the flag on holidays-in short we were the kind of people that supposedly were the backbone of America.

The number one piece of advice I can give people who have been falsely reported for abuse or neglect is to hire a good lawyer. (I am not a lawyer, by the way, so please don’t take any advice from this article without consulting a lawyer first.) But don’t just hire any lawyer. Your lawyer must be familiar with family law and social services law. He or she must also be aggressive. Child Protective caseworkers and social service lawyers are very aggressive, and they will run right over a mealy-mouthed lawyer. I know because it happened to the first lawyer we had.

Another mistake we made was cooperating with CPS. It’s just like cooperating with the police. It generally buys you nothing. When CPS investigators come to your door, you do not have to let them in the house, unless they have a search warrant. All of your constitutional rights are in force, and you need to maintain them.

Get the investigator’s name and business card if possible. Speak as little as possible and as politely as possible. Close the door as soon as you are able and contact your attorney right away.

Before closing the door, ask what the allegations are. CPS will not give you a copy of the report but will generally tell you what the allegations are. Ask the investigator to read the report to you and write it down word for word. If possible, and legal in your state, record the conversation.

The CPS investigator may say she can’t tell you the allegations unless you let her in the house. That’s a lie, and CPS investigators are not beyond lying to get what they want out of you. They will bluff and try to intimidate you. Ignore all such actions. They will do anything to get into your house in order to snoop around and in order to talk to your children. Never let them talk to your children, unless a court forces you to or your lawyer advises you to.

Once CPS leaves and you have contacted your attorney, begin gathering any evidence you can to refute the false charges. These may include medical, dental and psychiatric records. If the allegations involve abuse, ask your lawyer about getting your child an immediate physical examination with accompanying photographs. If the false allegations involve a specific day and time, try to remember what you were doing at that time. If you were with other people, call them and ask them to be witnesses.

It’s enormously important that you know all of your state’s laws regarding Child Protective Services, neglect, abuse, as well as your rights under your state’s constitution and the United States’ constitution. Learning these laws now, before anyone falsely accuses you, will save you a lot of trouble in the future. And don’t assume your lawyer knows the law. Make sure both you and he know the law.

Whatever you do, keep records of everything. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of documenting everything if you have been falsely reported. Get a blank notebook. Record the date and time of every conversation you have with Child Protective Services caseworkers, every visit, every visit or phone call with your lawyer and any visits you make to your child’s doctor or counselor. In short, document everything that might have any bearing on your case.

Just one investigation by CPS, and your life can be altered forever. Mine has been. Yours won’t be if you prepare yourself in advance.