A CPS investigation is beyond frightening. What are your rights? Why does it seem like the investigator is interrogating me? The investigator keeps saying that this is not a criminal matter, but do I need a lawyer? Do I have to answer the questions the caseworker is asking? What is this Team Decision Making meeting and who is on the team?
Frequently, CPS receives allegations of abuse either through the 1-888-SOS-CHILD hotline or they are contacted by police officers when there are children involved in a related or unrelated investigation. CPS, using their internal protocols, determine whether the information requires further scrutiny. If they determine further inquiry is warranted, an investigation is opened and the case is assigned to a caseworker or “specialist.” The caseworker then meets with the child, interviews the parents, and coordinates with the police to ultimately determine whether the child is safe in their current living situation or if a “removal” is necessary. If they believe it is an emergency situation, DES/CPS will serve a Temporary Custody Notice on a parent and take the child for 72 hours while they continuetheir investigation.
At the point of removal, CPS has 72 hours to either return the child, develop a “safety plan” approved by the parent, or file a Dependency action requesting the Superior Court place the child in CPS legal care pending further court hearings. During this 72 hour period CPS contacts the parent and invites them to participate in a “Team Decision Making” meeting (also known as a TDM) at the local CPS office. Often times the meeting consists of family members, friends, the case worker, service providers and sometimes the police.
What are my rights during the TDM?
Foremost, the name is a misnomer and tremendously misleading to parents who are being accused of abuse or neglect. The implication is that everyone around the table is part of the “team” and the parents are there to assist in the decision making process. The facilitator of this “team meeting” is a CPS worker and often times CPS has already made a decision about bringing the matter to court before the process has even begun. In some cases, the paperwork has already been drafted and is ready to be filed with the court to begin the Dependency action. Designating this a “team” meeting when the parents are walking into this trap is like leading a pig to the slaughterhouse and calling it a vacation.
Parents should immediately seek legal advice from an attorney once a child has been removed and prior to any meetings with CPS. When parents are contacted about this TDM meeting they are often told they do “not need” an attorney present or they are “not allowed” to have an attorney present. However, these meetings could be very detrimental to the parents’ rights and the case about to begin in court because statements made during the TDM meeting can be used against the parents. We have even seen cases where CPS invites the police (who are still gathering data in efforts to charge the parents with a crime) to attend the TDM meeting. The police officers that attend the meeting will just sit there gathering information that can be used in related criminal prosecutions.
Having an attorneys’ advice before making any statement to CPS or the police is critical. An attorney can help protect the right of the parent to keep the child in their home and dispute the allegations made against them.